Flint, MI– One Flint city councilwoman is calling for an end to “personal attacks” and “hate speech,” during public comment at council meetings.
And she says it starts with the council itself.
“Why do these public speakers feel they can personally attack council members in this manner? It is because they are repeating exact words and behaviors from city council members themselves?” said Ninth Ward Councilwoman Eva Worthing during a press conference she held on Oct. 12.
The press conference followed a council meeting, when some public speakers called in and made disparaging remarks toward Worthing.
“To the ninth ward lady, when you’re walking on Fenton Road out there with $20 and anyone took it from you,” said one caller. “If it weren’t for the assistant prosecutor who spared your record and the only thing you got out of it was two kids.”
Worthing asked what the speaker said about her, as it was difficult to understand them.
“This is legitimate. Can we review that? And then we need to ban certain people from talking,” Worthing said.
Councilman Eric Mays asked to proceed with public comment.
“Didn’t she just say something about folks having thick skin?” Mays asked.
Vice President Maurice Davis said callers had freedom of speech.
“Everyone is being attacked all over the place, especially in this climate,” Davis said. “I get attacked all the time, and I just blank it out because everybody has the right to say whatever’s on their mind. First amendment.”
The next public speaker called in and told Worthing to put her “big girl panties on,” and tough out the comments that were made.
At the press conference, Worthing said that these comments weren’t “free speech,” but “hate speech,” and “bullying.”
She said she wished her colleagues would have taken action against the speakers, but instead felt like they were encouraging it.
“He could be muted. He could be barred from public speaking. You know, there are things that council can do to take action,” she said. “They can say ‘please stop the personal attacks.’ But none of that was said. It was like encouraging, ‘oh, please continue.’”
Worthing said she feels like there is a double standard when it comes to what constitutes a “personal attack.”
“When the attacks are directed towards Councilwoman Kate Fields and I, they are allowed under the guise of free speech,” she said. “When anything negative is said towards councilmembers Mays, Davis, or Galloway, the callers are silenced. This double standard has to stop. I am calling for civility on council starting with its own members supporting their colleagues whether they agree with them or not.”
Davis told Flint Beat on Oct. 13, that callers frequently attack him, and other council members in meetings, and his colleagues don’t step in either.
He pointed to times where he’s gotten death threats, Councilman Eric Mays has gotten accused of using drugs, or when speakers accuse Councilman Santino Guerra of living in another city.
“It is what it is … your skin has to be a little thicker,” Davis said.
He said he stands by giving callers the right to say whatever they want, and not stop people from making attacks.
“It’s a first amendment right, and it’s clear. Everybody has that privilege, especially the community,” he said.
At her press conference, Worthing said she hopes the election brings new council members who won’t put up with personal attacks, and will stand up against incivility.
“I’m tired of feeling emotional, of wondering if my kid does an internet search when they get older, will they see that someone called her a prostitute on the internet? It’s things like that that I just cannot allow this to continue without speaking up,” Worthing said.