“Welcome to Flagstaff, where it's OK for Coral Evans to be racist and white people don’t matter.”
The words, typed on a picture of Drew Carey mocking him on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” were on one of several racially or sexually charged images posted on a now-defunct Facebook page called “Criminal Coral’s Communist Children.”
The fake Facebook page, which has since been taken down, used the same profile picture as Mayor Coral Evans uses in her capacity as mayor. In a police report Evans filed, she said she feared people would think she was the one posting hateful images on social media.
When the page was checked on Tuesday it contained 13 posts, most containing racial insults toward Native American people, including images of people passed out from drinking or urinating in public.
The page’s first post was dated September 7 and Evans reported the page to the police September 9. The page was taken down sometime on September 12.
In the report, the police officer told Evans the page could be seen as freedom of speech, but the page would be reviewed by the City Attorney’s office to see if any crime took place.
Local political commentators agree that a fake Facebook page that portrays an elected official as a racist is unacceptable, but there is some discussion about what crosses the line for local political commentary.
Jeff Oravits, a former city councilman and now political radio talk show host, said he has had to cut off callers on his show who start attacking a person’s appearance or other personal details instead of disagreeing with their ideas.
“I always say disagree passionately with policy, but don’t attack the person,” Oravits said.
Social media has made it easier than ever to get nasty toward people, Oravits said.
“Some people you have never met will call you Satan,” he said.
Being able to comment anonymously without having to face the other person or answer for crude comments makes social media an easy outlet for people looking to troll a public figure or politician, he said.
Oravits said national politics has gone in cycles of ugliness toward political opponents, and presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are known for having said vicious things about the other and their families. Oravits said tactics like that could be seen again in this year’s presidential race.
Donald Trump famously tweeted an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife next to a picture of Trump’s wife.
However, Oravits said, political incivility at the local level can come with more consequences.
“You can see these people at the grocery store,” Oravits said of local politicians.
Councilman Jim McCarthy said the national climate of political ugliness seems to have manifested at the local level as well.
“It seems like it goes in cycles,” McCarthy said. “It’s politically acceptable now to be blatantly racist and prejudiced.”
McCarthy said the members of the city council themselves have been civil and open minded, and even though all members may not agree on an issue, they respect each other’s opinions.
“When we respect each other and talk to each other, we can find a common ground,” McCarthy said. “When it gets to name-calling, people get defensive.”
It is possible to disagree with a person’s politics and still respect them as a person, McCarthy said.
“Attack the problem, not the person,” he said.
Political commentator Elisha Dorfsmith said he believes “it is a citizen’s responsibility to hold people in power accountable.”
However, Dorfsmith said he tries to focus his criticisms on policies or hypocrisy that he sees from elected officials.
“Public figures, especially elected officials, are fair game for criticism, because they work for us,” he said. “But it is never OK to go after a person’s appearance or family.”
Dorfsmith said he has been involved in local politics for the last decade, and he does not think politics have gotten any nastier at the local level. But he has noticed that personal attacks at the national level seem to have gotten worse.
He agreed with Oravits and said people criticizing officials at the local level might carry higher consequences in their social circles than national-level criticism.
However, Dorfsmith said, that does not disqualify identifying a person specifically for their political actions.
“At the city level, councilmembers were called out for leaving early and missing important votes,” he said. “I think that’s a legitimate criticism, so there is room for criticism and even a little bit of attack.”