Council member Ron Christianson fails to address bigotry concerns
WILLMAR – It was standing room only for most of Monday’s Willmar City Council meeting, as dozens of residents filled the council chamber, with many rising to speak about Councilor Ron Christianson and his alleged liking and commenting on Facebook posts that many have deemed inappropriate for an elected official in a diverse city.
“Liking or reposting comments filled with hatred is basically supporting that ideology. I am a firm believer of our first amendment right, freedom of speech. But, that comes with responsibilities when you are a public servant,” said Shafia Abdullahi.
Christianson did not comment during the council meeting and declined to comment when asked after the meeting had been adjourned.
Ben Larson, who also spoke at the Dec. 4 meeting on the same issue, said he was disappointed that Christianson had not taken the opportunity given to him to apologize, but instead chose to remain silent.
“Silence says a lot to me. It says you support the racism and Islamophobia in those posts, and that hurts this community,” Larson said.
Larson also called on Christianson to resign.
“When you support bigotry, ignorance and racist lies, you have no part in this city’s leadership, so please resign,” Larson said.
Several who addressed the council Monday night spoke out against some of the issues in the Facebook posts Christianson apparently liked.
“Somalis, Hispanics, all immigrant people are doctors, some of them are individuals who are teachers, nurses, executive directors, supervisors, cashiers, policemen and woman, and they serve in the military as we speak,” said Abdirahman Ahmed, speaking against the belief of some that many immigrants have low intelligence.
“I am not crime or filth ridden, I have never committed a crime,” said Maria Larson, who said she is a second-generation immigrant and has lived in Willmar her entire life. “I am not illiterate because I have a college degree. I am also bilingual. I started my own business at the age of 20.”
There were two who spoke in support of Christianson and do not believe he is a racist for liking posts on Facebook.
“That is ludicrous and slanderous. Perhaps the councilman liked the courage of his constituent,” for speaking on a controversial topic, Sue Quist said.
Instead, Quist said it is Larson who has a political bias and should step down from the Willmar Human Rights Commission because she believes his judgment is questionable.
“Ben’s unmerited public comments have escalated fear and division in our community,” Quist said.
Christianson’s sister, Doreen Magnuson, also spoke in support of her brother, saying their family has a long history of serving the country in the military.
“The people who are coming, and God bless them they need to come, do they realize the wonderful freedom we have in our country because of our military people? I don’t think we give enough service to our military. We need to say thank you,” Magnuson said.
As is council practice, none of the council spoke directly after the open forum portion of the meeting.
However, Mayor Marv Calvin did speak at the end of the meeting, saying all communities go through growing pains and that Willmar has a history of standing up for the rights of others.
“Our community has always stood strong for their beliefs, for what they believe is right, for women’s rights, for all rights for all people. That is one thing that makes Willmar a proud community,” Calvin said.
Calvin said he also appreciates what Willmar’s newcomers are bringing to Willmar and asked all the city’s residents to get out and meet their new neighbors and make new friends.
“I urge each of you to assimilate, go down, shake hands, be friendly, get to know the newcomers to the community. You’ll find they are here for the same reasons we are here. They are here for the same reasons our grandparents and great-grandparents came. They want a better life for their families, for themselves,” Calvin said.
He also urged all in the Willmar community to try and follow one simple rule, despite the culture and belief differences and various opinions found throughout Willmar.
“The golden rule my mom taught me was be nice,” Calvin said. “At the end of the day, just be nice.”