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Shame on Stonington's selectwomen for tolerating hate speech

A resident of Stonington, I cast my vote last year for what became an historic win, putting in office the town's first-ever first selectwoman, who was joined by two winning women candidates to create the first all-female Board of Selectmen.

I was so proud of the town where I live.

That's what made it all the more heart-wrenching this week to see those same three women not only refuse to call out a town police commissioner for his hateful posts on Facebook, but, in my view, to also shamefully blame the victims.

Get to know Commissioner Robert O'Shaughnessy, the three selectwomen all said in written statements on the matter. He's a good guy. Stop being divisive on social media, they lectured those of us all over town who took offense at what the commissioner posted.

The statements from the selectwomen were riddled with misspellings, grammar mistakes, words crossed out and irrelevant ramblings. You wouldn't let your sixth grader turn any one of them in as a school paper.

First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough twice misspelled the commissioner's name. How embarrassing for Stonington.

But the message from the selectwomen, however sloppy, was still loud and clear to all those who have called for O'Shaughnessy's resignation: Shut up and sit down.

"I ask that people attend the Board of Police Commissioners meeting Sept. 10 and to continue to engage going forward to get to know more about this man," Chesebrough wrote in her statement.

Frankly, as a gay man, I take him at his word for what he posted with hate, that he has no interest in getting to know me for who I am.

"I never cared whether you were 'gay' or whatever acronym you chose to call yourself until you started shoving it down my throat," reads one of the police commissioner's reposts.

That doesn't sound like someone who wants to meet me or my husband. And can't the first selectwoman try to imagine why I don't have any interest in getting to know someone who thinks my identity, being who I am, no more, no less, is shoving something down his throat?

Never mind his insults to gay and transgendered people and immigrants, the "illiterate gang bangers" he crudely calls them, coming across the southern border. How about the atrocious way his posts address people of color?

"I never cared what color you were, if you were a good human, until you started blaming me for your problems," his post reads. "I've given all the tolerance I have to give. This is no longer my problem. It's your problem. You can still fix it. It's not too late. But it will be. Soon."

Of all the nastiness in O'Shaughnessy's posts, this is the most alarming, coming from someone charged with supervising town police. It appears to be a direct threat — "It's not too late. But it will be. Soon." — to people of color who try to assert their rights.

Perhaps the Stonington selectwomen have not noticed, but the country is aflame right now with racial strife, a fire stoked by continuing police violence against Black men.

Here you have a police commissioner, in charge of law enforcement in the town, saying he has no more tolerance for people of color, that time is running out for them and their grievances.

All three selectwomen not only exonerate the commissioner for what he posted — and there was a lot of nasty, mean-spirited hate to overlook — but blamed social media for the controversy, sort of like saying the gun in a fatal shooting is at fault, not the person who pulls the trigger, or pushed the send button.

The most outrageous victim blaming came from Selectwoman June Strunk, who wrote: "Someone trolled the commissioner's Facebook page and reposted the post," she wrote. "The trolling itself is disturbing."

Just let hate speech — against people of color, gays, transgendered and immigrants — posted in a public place lie without complaint, she seems to be saying, even if it is from someone with enormous responsibility for policing in your town.

Selectwoman Deb Downie also dismissed the criticism of the police commissioner as gossip from people who haven't gotten to know him.

It's not gossip. It's quite real. There are screenshots to prove what he posted but has since taken down. The selectwoman sounds like a voice from the white bubble, someone who hasn't had to worry about the harm that could come to her children when they are pulled over by police with the mindset of Commissioner O'Shaughnessy, who has run out of tolerance.

The selectwomen have no power to remove the commissioner. They could publicly rebuke him.

At the very least, they could have followed the lead of Henri Gourd, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, who promptly and wisely posted on Facebook that Commissioner O'Shaughnessy's views are not shared by the commission or police department. Stonington police deserve better than a commissioner spewing hate and misrepresenting a professional department.

But instead, sadly, the selectwomen chose to blame the targets of the commissioner's hate speech rather than distance themselves and the town from it.

I wish I could take back my vote.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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