Heat rising after Moulton's comments on Black Lives Matter and pandemic
NORTH ADAMS — Calling the remarks "deeply concerning," Mayor Thomas Bernard joined a growing chorus of disapproval on Thursday over statements made by City Councilor and School Committee member Robert Moulton, who called Black Lives Matter a "terrorist organization" and dismissed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
And echoing Bernard's sentiments, Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, chief diversity officer of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said in a statement that the college was "deeply disappointed in Councilor Moulton's rhetoric and are reminded why the work we do on campus to become a more equitable & anti-racist institution is so important,"
On his local talk show Tuesday night, the six-term council member called Black Lives Matter, a nationwide movement that has grown in response to incidents of violence against Black citizens by police officers, a "terrorist organization" that has "hijacked the term, `racism.'"
When the conversation shifted to the pandemic, Moulton asserted that the U.S. had made a "huge, huge mistake" by enacting a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He stated that the worldwide death toll of the virus has been "miniscule" compared to the planet's population.
The fallout from his comments continued late Thursday, when Moulton resigned as president of the North Adams Ambulance board of directors after an emergency meeting to discuss his remarks.
"We want to express our sincere concern for the behavior and comments made by Robert Moulton Jr., and to reiterate that they are antithetical to our agency's mission," the board said in a statement.
MacDonald-Dennis said that the label of "terrorist organization" has historically been used against organizations that advocate for Black Americans."
As the local institution of higher education in North Adams, we are a resource to community at this time," he said. "As such, it is easy to forget 60 years later that people disparaged Dr. [Martin Luther] King with similar language."
Bernard said that although Moulton's comments are "deeply concerning," they are not shocking.
"Having run against Councilor Moulton for mayor in 2017, nothing that he said comes as a surprise. It is consistent with his level of awareness of issues of public health and race that he demonstrated back then," Bernard said.
Bernard defeated Moulton by a tally of 2,404 votes to 1,023 in the 2017 election.
The two men serve together on the North Adams School Committee. Bernard said that Moulton's opinions about the coronavirus are especially alarming in this context. He said that Moulton's "profoundly anti-science, anti-data" stance is a dereliction of the councilor's oath to keep schoolchildren safe.
Still, Bernard defended Moulton's right to an opinion, although questioning the forum through which that opinion was voiced.
"He's got a First Amendment right to his opinion. There is no reason it needs to be informed by science," Bernard said. "He himself indicated that he hasn't taken the time to understand the complicated and complex history of race and racism in this county."
Bernard said he would be asking Northern Berkshire Community Television why an opinion program was airing on the government access channel.
Both Bernard and MacDonald-Dennis stressed that Moulton does not speak on behalf of all of North Adams.
"I would like to believe it doesn't reflect the attitude of our community," Bernard said.
On Wednesday, three members of the North Adams City Council — Marie T. Harpin, Jessica Sweeney and Jason LaForest — also expressed dismay with Moulton's statement.
Moulton could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Christopher Parker can be reached via email at email@example.com or via Twitter @cparkernews.
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