Nationally and locally, people seem to be increasingly resorting to personal attacks, threats and even criminal behavior against those with whom they disagree.
Throughout the country, including Bay County, we need to turn down the temperature on political disagreements before heated emotions boil over.
During these poitically divided times, people seem to be increasingly resorting to personal attacks, threats and even criminal behavior against those with whom they disagree. Recent examples in Gainesville include Mayor Lauren Poe being threatened personally and a conservative student group’s sign being torn down and stolen on the University of Florida campus.
Although these might be isolated examples involving just a few people, the rest of us have a responsibility to respond by promoting civil discourse. We must stand together against intimidation and violence being used to make political points, while at the same time maintaining opportunities for people to publicly air their political views.
“I am deeply, deeply concerned about the escalation of this underlying, simmering rage from a few people in here,” Commissioner Gail Johnson said at Thursday’s meeting.
Poe said he recently received a threatening message that referenced the March 15 mass shootings at mosques in New Zealand. The writer also said they would make Poe’s life “a living hell,” mentioning where he buys groceries and gets gas.
“Tracking people down in their private lives to sort of intimidate them is not how we should conduct our public business,” Poe said.
No public official or anyone else should have to tolerate threats, and law enforcement should act accordingly. But extreme behavior shouldn’t be used as an excuse to prevent others from publicly airing views on political matters.
UF recently faced a free-speech conflict when students tore down and stole a “Build the Wall” banner displayed on the Plaza of the Americas by the student group Young Americans for Freedom. The group, which had a permit to display the banner, put up a new one — which students attempted to again steal.
UF Vice President for Student Affairs David Parrott, in an opinion column for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote that university police and student affairs staff used the incident as a “teachable moment” for the students.
“The two groups of students were separated and received instruction on the First Amendment and where people’s rights begin and end,” Parrott wrote.
Such a response is a more appropriate way to address such problems than the heavy-handed approach to policing campus speech promoted by some state and federal officials.
Similarly, Gainesville officials should use incidents involving personal attacks and threats as an opportunity to promote civil discourse rather than shut down public comment. They need the help of people who don’t typically make their voices heard at public meetings or elsewhere.
From the president on down, people today too often personally attack those with whom they disagree politically. Gainesville residents should show that it is still possible to disagree without being disagreeable.
This guest editorial was originally published in the Gainesville Sun, a sister newspaper of The Destin Log in GateHouse Media.