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Tribune Editorial: Christianson must address bias concerns

Tribune file photo Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson participates in a regular meeting at the Municipal Utilities building auditorium. Concerns have been raised about his supposed Facebook account's likes and comments of anti-Muslim posts on Facebook.

Willmar City Councilman Ron Christianson was criticized recently for “comments and likes” of anti-Muslim Facebook posts, considered to be biased and prejudiced by many.

We commend Willmar Human Rights Commission member Ben Larson for raising his concerns Monday at the City Council meeting about Christianson’s recent social media activity. For doing so, he experienced negative and hateful comments and gestures from some Christianson supporters.

Larson complained about Christianson’s support of a Willmar resident and her anti-immigrant Facebook posts that often disparaged Somali, Muslims and Hispanics, including references to “illiterate, uneducable people with the average IQ of 68,” and “diseases, crime and filth.”

The resident’s writings include such passages as “We need to get these people out of our country and back to other Muslim hell holes where they will fit in because they don’t fit in here and never will” and “Now we are flooded with illiterate Mexicans and Muslims.”

Christianson through his Facebook account’s activity appears to support the writer’s comments.

On Nov. 9, his account wrote “As always, (writer’s name), thanks for sharing your inner most thoughts on bringing our country back to “One nation under God” and “You and your writings are a welcome breath of fresh air on Facebook.”

In mid-November, the resident wrote she is being criticized for her anti-Muslims postings.

On Nov. 12, Christianson’s account responds, “Your antagonists are ill-educated and really don’t know sh_ _.”

On Nov. 30, Christianson’s account told the writer, “You speak for many more people than you’ll ever know. You have blessed us with your ability to put into words exactly what we are thinking, but don’t know how to express in writing.”

Such ill-conceived, biased opinions about any race or religion are unfortunate and often reflect poorly upon the individuals holding, expressing and supporting such opinions.

Certainly, in the United States, one’s right to their opinion and the freedom to speak it is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The question is are public officials held to a higher standard of views about their community. We think they should be.

Public officials should be responsible and decent to all constituents within their community. If a public official cannot respect and treat everyone in the community fairly and decently, then said official is not serving all of the community. The question becomes should the individual continue attempting to serve when the individual is not serving all?

Christianson’s supporters said Monday night that he is not biased, prejudiced or discriminatory in his comments, views or actions.

Well, Christianson needs to prove that through his owns deeds and actions. He has declined multiple opportunities to answer Tribune questions about his recent social media activity. He was a no-show at the recent City Council meeting. He has not addressed the recent bias concerns publicly.

Larson suggested some possible steps Monday night to consider. He said Christianson could denounce the posts, admit his support for them was wrong, ask for forgiveness and then take actions to mend the hurt he has caused this community.

Such actions would follow the Bible verse Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

We encourage Christianson to strongly consider such positive steps to resolve the bias concerns that have been raised.

Bias or racist opinions will continue to be an issue as Willmar and Minnesota are changing racially and ethnically. By 2035, the non-white population will grow 112 percent, while the white population will grow 9 percent.

All residents in Willmar have a responsibility to be part of this community and hold each other accountable.

The question for the city of Willmar is how should a public employee or a public official - appointed or elected - act on social media. Unfortunately, Willmar does not currently have a social media policy.

The League of Minnesota Cities has developed a model social media policy, which the Willmar City Council should review, customize and adopt. Such a policy would help guide city staff and officials in their usage and practices on city and private social media.

We urge the City Council to develop a social media policy for its staff and officials.

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