Our Opinion: Misinformation only serves to divide

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Freedom of speech is an American right, but with that right comes responsibility. Too many Americans, often public officials, instead spread misinformation, peddle conspiracy, and seek to inflame and divide along racial lines.

Over the last four years, President Donald Trump has set the template for public officials to devalue the truth in myriad ways through misinformation, lies, bogus right-wing conspiracy theories and divisive hate rhetoric. The response must always be the offering of accurate information and documented facts, along with criticism of those who abuse the right to free speech.

An example was provided Tuesday by six-term North Adams City Councilor and School Committee member Robert R. Moulton Jr., who smeared the Black Lives Matter movement and denigrated sound, science-based and common-sense efforts to curb COVID-19 ("North Adams City Councilor Robert Moulton comments spark ire," Eagle, July 23). It's alarming that such remarks come from a longtime elected city councilor, School Committee member and two-time mayoral candidate.

On his Northern Berkshire Community Television program "Let's Talk About It," Councilor Moulton described the Black Lives Matter movement as a "terrorist organization" that wants "to get rid of the family as it is." He added that he didn't believe "any of this is racism."

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013, after the acquittal in Trayvon Martin's death, and its mission is to rid America of white supremacy while empowering Black communities and affirming the lives of others who are marginalized. It has grown in importance because of well-documented attacks, often fatal, on African Americans by white police officers.

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The movement is, by no definition, a terrorist organization and is, in fact, pro-family, as members want to protect fathers and their children from being victimized by racist law enforcement officers.

Mr. Moulton passed along the groundless assertion by the radical right that the Black Lives Matter movement illegally passes along money designated for BLM to congressional Democrats. This is untrue, according to FactCheck.org, which serves as a watchdog for the many far-right conspiracy theories polluting social media.

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Mr. Moulton's remarks are offensive to African Americans and everyone in the Berkshires and beyond who understands that Black liberation is not fully realized in the United States, and that white supremacy and privilege continue to be perpetuated.

Mr. Moulton's remarks on COVID-19 were less offensive but equally misleading. He criticized locking down the U.S. economy in response to a virus that had infected less than 1 percent of the population. Documented coronavirus cases currently comprise 1.18 percent of the population, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes this figure to be misleadingly low. The more than 140,000 deaths caused by the coronavirus in the nation is not in dispute.

Massachusetts has dramatically lowered its number of coronavirus cases because state and local officials, as well as residents, take the pandemic seriously. Mr. Moulton's views reflect those espoused in states like Florida and Texas, which regularly establish new records for cases of COVID-19.The purpose of the lockdown was to prevent our health care system from becoming so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients that it would fail, which, in turn, could lead to the death rate multiplying. It barely worked in New York City; it did work here, and now health services are seriously threatened in Florida, Arizona and other places.

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A growing number of North Adams city officials and others are calling out Mr. Moulton for his comments. We hope there will be more.

Meanwhile, Mr. Moulton resigned Thursday as president of the North Adams Ambulance board of directors, which called his views "antithetical to our agency's mission."

Mr. Moulton would do right by offering an apology. A half-measure though it would be, he could back the sincerity of an apology by committing to a full-measured response to build his cultural competence and engage in multicultural education.

Mr. Moulton will likely hear calls to resign his seats on the City Council and School Committee, for his views are also antithetical to the safety and well-being of North Adams' citizens and schoolchildren, especially in the city's Black community. If he chooses not to resign or to pursue a path that would "reflect a true listening effort" to his community, as Councilor Jessica Sweeney put it, the voters will have their say in fall 2021.


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