One of the first things many young reporters learn when they cover local government is how the people who represent us really do represent us. They have the same insecurities and quick tempers we do. They can be overly ambitious and insufficiently patient. And sometimes, like us, they say and do really dumb things.
So it was with Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield, who in a social media post Monday linked to an article that questioned whether the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were real. The article, which came from the website Awarenessact.com, declared: "It's official: European Scientific Journal Concludes 9/11 was A Controlled Demolition."
News flash: It's not official. It's a loony theory purported by "truthers" who believe the world didn't really see what it saw on 9-11. The conspiracists say that at the least, the truth has been covered up, and some believe the attacks were an inside job conducted and concealed by the U.S. government.
Mostly, the truthers linger in the dark corners of the internet. But as we saw Monday, not always.
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In her Facebook link to the article, Mayfield wrote: "I am still waiting for someone to produce pieces of the alleged plane that opened the doors for US Citizens to loose all privacy rights (from the conspiracy theorist in me.)"
Yes, she said "alleged plane."
Sigh. It would be easy, we suppose, to shrug this off, to shake our heads and chuckle that Mayfield is doing a good job representing the tin foil constituency among us. But Mayfield, a Democrat who serves District 3, also represents something else: Our city. By Monday night, Mayfield's post was national news, carried by ABC and media outlets across the country. Comments streamed in from far flung places, including New York City. A petition on change.org demanded her resignation.
But Mayfield, like a lot of folks, also struggles with admitting she's done something wrong. She declined interviews with reporters Tuesday other than an initial conversation with WFAE in which she sort of backpedaled, but also said, somewhat incoherently: "I believe this nation chose to take a horrific act and use it to not only create a way through government to spy on the American people, but also to privatize a lot of the work that is happening on the ground."
She remained defiant on Facebook, amending her original post Tuesday to say: "So ...if I delete this all the comments will also be deleted. This was NOT shared to cause controversy yet it has. Freedom of speech allows you to share your thoughts and many have done that below."
Update, 9:15 p.m. Wednesday: Mayfield, in an emailed statement this evening (below), attempted to clarify the issue in a lengthy statement that covered 9-11, blacks and her resolve not to resign. She lamented: "It seems far too often that we as African-Americans or black people are not to have an opinion." She said she was "in no way invalidating the impacts felt by many from 9/11 that caused the deaths of more than 3,000 people."
That's not nearly enough. Mayfield owes an apology to the families, friends and colleagues of 9-11 victims. She should apologize, too, for embarrassing the city she is supposed to serve.
Yes, Mayfield can believe whatever she wants - and she certainly is free as a U.S. citizen to spout whatever wacky theory she wants to indulge. But when she chose to run for public office, she took on a greater responsibility - to the people and city she governs. She's a public official. She's our representative. She should act like it.
Mayfield's statement Wednesday:
To my Constituents in District 3, by now you have probably seen news articles, heard on the radio or from a neighbor comments regarding a Facebook post I “Shared” on Monday April 16. Below I want to clarify a few things.I am reaching out to you directly to provide background on the post and to share my thoughts on a much bigger conversation that We as a community of Black, White, and multiple other identities refuse to have.Let's start with the post, this is what I typed originally on a shared post titled: It's Official: European Scientific Journal Concludes 9/11 Was a Controlled Demolition"- written by Conspiracy Theories.I originally shared this post on FB with the following. "I am still waiting for someone to produce pieces of the planes that opened the doors for US Citizens to lose all privacy rights (from the conspiracy theorist in me)NOW! nowhere in this statement did I speak to the many lives LOST, nor did I speak to the many who still have health issues today from this catastrophic event. I want to be abundantly clear. I am in no way invalidating the impacts felt by many from 9/11 that caused the deaths of more than 3,000 people. I mourn, as an American, and wholly believe that were it not for the brave and heroic efforts of many, more lives would have been lost. I do understand, that a post, while on my personal social media, could be taken out of context or even be misread. While I do oppose limits on privacy and may have questions about certain actions taken by our government, I do not diminish the horrific events of that day.I am a BLACK woman in America who sees daily how being Black is the only requirement to be continuously harassed, Killed in the streets, discriminated against in public places and assaulted in America.So it is interesting to me many non-people of color have taken offense and read through their own lense of bias my statement. I DO NOT FEEL ANY SAFER today in America after giving up our privacy.Go back to a 2014 blog on Huffington post and updated in December 2017 written by Peter Van Buren titled: "What We've Lost Since 9/11 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-van-buren/what-weve-lost-since-911_b_5497673.html or watch the Michael Moore film from 2004 titled Fahrenheit 9/11 https://michaelmoore.com/movies/fahrenheit-911/ this topic has been debated many a time by White America and beyond but that also was not the focus of my post.Personally, I am TIRED as an American, I am Tired as a Black American.I committed to YOU that I would be transparent, not lie to you and to address concerns in our community to the best of my ability. I did NOT say I would stop having my own opinions or stop being BLACK nor will I forget as James E Baldwin once said that "To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage"Many have shared many views, comments, and insults through the course of the past two days. I understand the passion surrounding this issue. I challenge those who delivered vitriol to be as passionate and angry with what is happening in our country. Although civil discussion is essential in any democracy, unfortunately, I saw name-calling, instant disenfranchisement and even some racial overtones of disgust. I respect your right to your thoughts, answers, and disgust in the course of this post. I did not delete it for that reason.It seems far too often that We as African Americans or Black people are not to have an opinion and with that in mind, my sharing of the post was me sharing multiple questions I still (while wearing my conspiracy theory hat which many of us wear but I am acknowledging) have regarding my safety after the trampling of "The First Amendment" which- was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”I sincerely hope that the effort and energy put into the engagement on this post can be put toward voting, volunteering and tackling issues such as housing, safety, and small business growth. I hope that the disgust and unbelief shown towards me will be posted and shouted from the rooftops when there are issues of homelessness, poverty-stricken neighbors and violence in our City not being met with solutions by our government.My record is clear. I work hard for the citizens of District 3 and the City of Charlotte. Defining the work that I have done and continue to do by one post on my personal social media is unacceptable. One post does not make the person, it is merely a thought or question especially when that post is misrepresented. I have no intention to resign and will continue to serve the citizens that elected me to work for them.As your representative, you are all very important to me, service to this community is important to me and I do not want that overlooked. I will continue to fight against injustice and misrepresentation including for those who disagree with me. The beauty of our District is the Diversity and I believe there are communal issues we can address together and I will continue to fight for those issues as well.LaWana MayfieldYour District 3 Representative