On Friday, Antioch Planning Commission Chairman Ken Turnage II was removed from his position a week after suggesting on social media that vulnerable members of society should die during the the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Allowing ‘the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature’
The Antioch city council voted unanimously to remove Turnage only a day after Mayor Sean Wright had called for his dismissal.
On April 23rd, Turnage posted on his Facebook account that “The World has been introduced to a new phrase Herd Immunity which is a good one. In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers it ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature.”
He had also added that they should die so that the US and the world “would strengthen when this is all settled.” He later focused further on the homeless, saying that their deaths would “fix what is a significant burden on our society and resources that can be used.”
Despite the posts being deleted shortly afterwards, many area residents were outraged at the remarks and sent them to other public officials. Among them was Antioch resident Elaine Fisher.
“My first reaction was ‘holy crap, we have a guy in power who thinks this?'” said Fisher, a retiree who identifies as a Republican. “My mom is in her 90’s and my husband is vulnerable due to respiratory issues. He would be fine if most of my family died?”
“A lot of us started coming together on forums online, and there were very liberal people who I never agreed with there, who now we were on the same side of. People are wondering how this happened so fast, and that’s the reason. He offended everyone. Right, left. Man, woman. Young, old. Black, white. Rich, poor. Everyone.”
Freedom of speech and serving the community
His comments reached the mayor and city council members shortly afterwards, resulting in a two-hour city council meeting held remotely, in which Turnage refused to apologize or resign. He also said that it was an opinion, did not effect his job, and that doing anything would violate his freedom of speech.
“My personal opinion had nothing to do with the city or my position on the planning commission, so to try to somehow link them or create a nexus to further your political agenda is shameful,” stated Turnage during the meeting. “Being removed from the planning commission because my opinion is not liked or agreed with is not a fair reason to be removed. In fact, in a country where we value free speech, it is unconscionable and sends a message that only like-minded people can serve this city.”
Turnage also added that he had hoped to “spark debate” with his post.
However, most city lawmakers and officials noted that the remarks came during the coronavirus pandemic and resulted in a drastic loss of confidence, that the whole incident was disrupting city government, and a reiterance that that local government is about serving people and providing services, not about harming or refusing to help them.
After the council’s vote on Friday, Turnage still refused to retract his statements.
“If they lost confidence in me, that’s their opinion and I can’t help that,” said Turnage. “It’s not like it used to be. When you could have an opinion, talk about it and then sit down and have a beer together and talk about football.”
City officials expressed opposite feelings of his dismissal.
“The impact of commissioner Turnage’s statements on his Facebook post have caused unnecessary damage during a time of extreme difficulty for this community and for the state and our nation as we deal with extreme consequences, loss of life, severe illness, economic fallout,” noted Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts during the Friday meeting.
Many residents agreed.
“We just had a public official say that vulnerable people should die even though we have the resources and compassion to help them,” said Antioch resident Martin Cowling on Saturday. “It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, you can’t be in public office and say innocent people should die.”
“It would have been troubling if he was allowed to stay on.”
As of Saturday, no permanent replacement for the Chairmanship had been announced for the Contra Costa County city.
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