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Durham City Council should do fact finding before next accusatory statement

“It is extremely disturbing to see government authority using its power to not only censure, but to smear those with whom they disagree,” writes Peter Reitzes.
“It is extremely disturbing to see government authority using its power to not only censure, but to smear those with whom they disagree,” writes Peter Reitzes.

I never heard of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson until Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson published the Durham City Council statement on Facebook responding to his upcoming show at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Through a public records request, I have been reading many of the hundreds of concerned emails to the City Council. Many have asked, “Can you please provide evidence for your claims of Jordan Peterson’s homophobia, misogyny, and racism?” It is a very reasonable request which a judicious City Council would have required of itself prior to issuing such an inflammatory statement.

It is extremely disturbing to see government authority using its power to not only censure, but to smear those with whom they disagree, as they have offered no evidence to support their accusations.

Council person DeDreana Freeman wrote to Dr. Peterson to offer a partial apology and to say she would attend his speech if her schedule allows it. Freeman added that she “would not remain in attendance if at any point in your talk I found any of your material offensive to me, my family or my community.”

I wish to remind Ms. Freeman that on April 16, when the Durham City Council chose to discriminate against Israel and the Jewish people, many of us in attendance found the council to be deeply offensive to our families and community. However, I don’t recall a single concerned citizen leaving the packed council meeting in protest. If we had, the room would have gone from full to having plenty of open seats. As explained so well by our local rabbis, the mainstream Jewish community felt like the City Council gave us a punch in the gut.

Instead of looking for the exit at Dr. Peterson’s speech, I urge Ms. Freeman to listen and engage, to ask questions if permitted, and to consider the pain the council has caused others.

peterson
Jordan Peterson during a lecture on January 10, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star/Zuma Press/TNS) Rene Johnston/Toronto Star TNS

After publishing the statement on her Facebook page, Ms. Johnson received a request for an interview by a local reporter. Johnson replied that she has ”no desire to give this subject any more of my time or attention.” This is very disappointing. Ms. Johnson and the council owe some simple evidence and fact-finding to the public.

The Durham City Council is making a habit of issuing statements without first conducting fact finding and evidence gathering. The next time members choose to call someone “racist, misogynist, and transphobic” or choose to boycott a foreign country, they need to offer facts and evidence to support their actions.

It is long past time for the Durham City Council to understand the importance of research and careful evaluation.

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent the City Council a letter of strong concern. I urge the council to consider it carefully. NCAC wrote, “as public officials you have a duty to protect the rights of citizens who want to hear him [Peterson], including those who disagree with him but want to hear him anyway. In a democracy we let the people decide which ideas have value. We agree that no one has a right to an audience, but everyone is entitled to seek one, especially on a public stage.”

A few days after posting the statement on Facebook, Johnson was quoted in Seattle newspaper The Stranger as saying the following about Jordan Peterson: “He’s not Richard Spencer. More like a white boy’s Deepak Chopra with some rape culture on the side.” It is odd that while Johnson spoke out about the alleged racism of another, the only evidence she provided points to perhaps her own racist views.

Peter Reitzes lives in Chapel Hill.
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