Update, 12:10 a.m. March 18, comments from Brenda Penn-Williams and Jack Chiaramonte. (This story was originally posted at 9:08 p.m. March 17.)
NORWALK, Conn. – Angry comments posted by Norwalk Board of Education member Jack Chiaramonte on his private Facebook page didn’t cross the line, Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland agree. But the responses were racist, Crosland said, and “very troubling,” according to Rilling.
Chiaramonte’s comments were intended to be “private,” in that they were only available to the 734 friends that were listed on Sunday. One of those “friends” sent the comments to NancyOnNorwalk, expressing disgust. While BoE Chairman Mike Lyons defended Chiaramonte as being against all racism, Crosland said Chiaramonte’s behavior is not befitting a public figure.
“I just read it and what’s sad is that although he himself didn’t totally cross the line, his friends did and he is a part of their racist comments,” Crosland wrote late Monday. “He should be ashamed of himself, as a public figure that is not good behavior.”
“Some of the comments I read were very troubling and disturbing,” Rilling said. “I think people should think twice before putting these things on social media because they aren’t private, they get shared.”
Chiaramonte did not respond to requests for comment.
This comes as the charges levied by BoE member Shirley Mosby against BoE Chairman Mike Lyons alleging disparate treatment and racial discrimination continue to fester in the background of BoE business. Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano recently posted an open letter to Rilling calling for action, but the matter is unresolved.
Chiaramonte’s response to Mosby’s accusations last summer was to call her, “the girl who cried black.”
At Tuesday night’s BOE meeting, NAACP First Vice President Brenda Penn Williams addressed the matter.
“As a grandparent, a grandmother of elementary school children, I am appalled and quite frankly disgusted to read the racist rhetoric that BoE member Jack Chiaramonte engaged in on his Facebook page,” Penn Williams said. “This is not the first controversy regarding racism. Remember when he referred to the BoE member Shirley Mosby ‘the girl who cried black’? He should be removed from the Board because obviously his views doesn’t represent the makeup of this city. Shame on you Jack Chiaramonte for living in the Jack Crow era, oops I mean the Jim Crow.”
On Sunday afternoon, Chiaramonte posted a link to a disturbing video from Indianapolis, showing what appeared to be a white woman and child being pursued through a park by a group of black teenagers. A black female teenager jumped the woman, punched her, pulled her hair and kicked her, let her walk away, then jumped her again before taking down the child.
The post was shared was from Richard Ampleford III, who lives in the United Kingdom. Ampeford’s comment was, “Woman and child attacked by absolute savages for walking in a black neighborhood.” Chiaramonte’s post said, “Where’s Sharpton? Where’s the race fueling media? Where’s our idiot President or that dimwit Eric Holder? Black racist pull this crap and no one says anything? Not anymore. The stank perp’s name and info is posted. I called the Indianapolis Police Dept. and as soon as I mention a video I saw on Face Book, they already said they are investigating it. I hope the media picks this up and shoves in Obama, Holder and Shatptons faces and ask these racist scum why they don’t have anything to say”
The Facebook post was removed Monday afternoon.
Responses from Chiaramonte’s “friends” ranged from “Put these animals back in the jungle,” “another useless form of life” and “What an animal! Scum! Ignorant! Welfare scum I am sure!”
The first respondent suggested sending the video to the White House. Chiaramonte responded, “It seems the White House’s job these days is to defend black racist thugs only!”
Another person suggested sending it to Sharpton. Chiaramonte replied, “Don’t hold your breath waiting from that racist scum baiting piece of turd, lying sack of sh– animal turd pr— waste of life a-hole sh–head sorry excuse thief bastard! Did I cover everything ?”
As responses continued, Chiaramonte wrote, “The Indianapolis Police said they are investigating it. I hope the annihilate this bitch.”
“Why none of the people present have defended that girl and that child?” a woman replied.
“Because they are racist pigs too! Inhuman scum!” Chiaramonte shot back.
It turns out that both the “woman” being attacked and the girl attacking her are 14 years old, according to news reports. The child is the victim’s 5-year-old brother.
The attacker has been arrested in connection to fights in a mall, according to WTHR.com. The girls go to separate high schools, according to a statement from Indianapolis Public Schools as published on WHTR. The victim filed a bullying report last month against students from the other high school, WTHR reports.
Chiaramonte’s 734 friends included Common Council members, Republican state representatives, commission and board members, Democratic Party members, the mayor, an employee of the mayor’s office, Drew Todd, Lisa Thomson, Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, BoE members Heidi Keyes, Mike Barbis and Artie Kassimiss and Republican Town Committee members. None of them replied to the post. Rilling said he hadn’t seen it when he got the inquiry, and it had been removed when he went looking for it.
Crosland was not a friend. NancyOnNorwalk sent him screen captures to get his reaction.
“Although Jack didn’t say black, his tone towards the president and Al Sharpton was clearly supportive of the others who did clearly base their comments in race,” Crosland said Tuesday. “Nonetheless, regardless of whether he comes out and says he hates President Obama and Rev. Al Sharpton because they are black, he is clearly involved in a hateful and utterly disrespectful conversation. As a member of our Board of Education, key word ‘education’, he should be ashamed of himself, and all of our top officials who stand by and allow him to continue to act this way should be also. Based on his demonstrated behavior here and in other forums, you would be a fool to doubt that there is merit to Mosby’s claims of racism at the hands of this fella.”
Crosland said he had one piece of advice for Chiaramonte: “He should remember before speaking, ‘It’s better to say nothing and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.’”
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho hadn’t seen the post. “All I can say is, we live in a representative democracy, and, sadly, Jack’s sentiments appear to be shared by many,” he wrote.
Lyons had not seen the Facebook posts either. He called the video “quite disturbing.”
“Jack, in his inimitable style, apparently objects to what he perceives to be the tendency of The White House to address white-on-black violence, while ignoring other minorities, as well black-on-white (or black-on-black) violence,” Lyons wrote. “Jack’s point appears to be that racism is deplorable whether practiced by Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics or African Americans. In this example, Jack is objecting to what he views as violent racism against whites. It’s hard to argue against that given the news reports. Clearly Jack’s language is way over the top (I personally prefer never to use language like that when discussing public matters, as you know), it is important to consider that this is a posting on a private Facebook page, not on a public outlet like NON or The Hour.
“Here’s my view,” Lyons continued. “First, I respect Jack’s anger, but even on a private Facebook page you can make a legitimate point on this without using such intensely negative language. Objecting to violence and objecting to racism certainly isn’t itself racist (I note that you correctly used the term ‘racial’ commentary rather than ‘racist’), but Jack can open himself up to that accusation when he uses extreme language, even in private.”
NoN asked Lyons if this were the smoking gun that could give credence to Mosby’s claims. Lyons said he didn’t see how it could objectively be seen that way. He wrote:
“Shirley’s formal complaint was to the NAACP and was apparently (we’re not completely sure, since it, like any evidence allegedly supporting it, has never been produced) directed against me. How would private Facebook postings by Jack Chiaramonte constitute a “smoking gun” against the Board of Education in general or Mike Lyons in particular? Does John Mosby’s arguably racist statement about Hispanics (http://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/03/mosby-targets-briggs-diversity-lyons-honesty) constitute a ‘smoking gun’ that SHIRLEY Mosby is against Hispanics? Absolutely not.
“As Board Chair, I have the responsibility to run Board meetings with decorum, pursuant to Roberts Rules. If people used objectionable language (e.g., Jack’s description of Sharpton, or Shirley’s threat to ‘pull out all of [my] white hair’) DURING a meeting and I didn’t enforce decorum, I’d be at fault. But I have no control over what Jack or Shirley say OUTSIDE of a meeting. I can deplore it, but I have no power to cancel either of their First Amendment rights to say whatever they like (though I can certainly express my disagreement with it).
“Quite frankly, none of this is helpful. We need to tone down the rhetoric here and focus on what’s important. For me and the Board of Education, that includes hiring a quality superintendent, filling a number of important administrative posts, continuing frugal management of our budget, advancing the Strategic Plan and its various elements, and continuing the general positive momentum of our school system for all children, minority and majority alike.”
Torrano spoke to Chiaramonte Tuesday. He wrote:
“I spoke with Jack about his recent Facebook post regarding the racist attack perpetrated on two Caucasian children by a group of minority students. Jack used strong language, inappropriate language, but not racially insensitive language to express his frustrations with national leaders Al Sharpton, Eric Holder and President Obama in their failure to publicly denounce this savage racist attack.
“While Jack posted to his private pages that only went out to his friends, I believe that the language he used was unacceptable for an elected official, and I told him so. I do not condone that type of expression, nor does the Republican Town Committee. Every Norwalk Citizen should be able to expect better discourse from all their elected officials.
“Jack understood our concerns and how it could further damage race relations by those who may read his words and add their own meaning to them.
“Ms. Mosby’s unsubstantiated and false accusations of racism by members of the Board of Education stem from very personal and local issues related to the Norwalk Public schools. Jack’s post to Facebook focused on the broader ideas of race relations on the national level. To call Jack’s Facebook post a ‘smoking gun’ in support of Mosby’s accusations is specious at best.”
Chiaramonte refused to comment before this story was published, but answered Penn Williams as one of the last segments of Tuesday’s BoE meeting, calling her remarks “erroneous.”
“Racism to me is just as ugly, doesn’t matter how you serve it. I had a discussion, as we mostly do, on our private Facebooks, that someone basically hacked and took some information,” Chiaramonte said.
His Facebook page, as described above, was not hacked.
“Well I may have used unflattering language that I wouldn’t use in an open forum like this, I did not slur any ethnic group,” Chiaramonte said. “I did have a problem with racial bias, not just in the city here but by this government. How some certain interracial actions that happen out there are broadcast and given to us 24/7, even lied about, over and over and ugly protests, while others that are just equally as gross because they are in the other way flipped are overlooked. So I am pretty much disgusted number one that people would go into my private discussions and try to use it in public because we’re all members here of the board, we have our own lives. We’re just like you. While we’re here in this room, we’re Board members. But to use such lowlife ways and try to use disgusting blackmail tactics. OK? That to me was disgusting.”
“I will challenge anybody, go right ahead. I can give you plenty of examples if you want. But I do not like seeing interracial biases, not by our government leaders nor by our town. I’ll stick by that.”
He declined to comment outside of the public forum.
Although Mosby was copied on Monday night’s reply from Crosland, she said she hadn’t seen the Facebook post. “I don’t want to get into it,” she said.
She was asked if she planned to address her grievance with the city, stemming from the June complaint. She walked away.