Regardless of Your View on Fortson
Running unopposed for school board earlier this year, Brandy Fortson committed to elevating the voices of LGBTQ+ and non-binary students. At The Advocate, we were enamored with Fortson’s message of inclusivity, and were proud of the fact that the nation’s first non-binary elected official would hail from this community. Prior to their election, many of us got to know Fortson and their family at our Storytelling Nights and through their community activism efforts.
As most readers will know, Fortson tweeted earlier this month, “Remember kids, all cops are bastards.” Their tweet was disavowed by the school board in a public announcement on Facebook, and they and their family have since become the subject of numerous threats, including death threats to their 8 year-old child. Because of these threats, Fortson resigned from the Board, and has publicly pointed out that their tweet was taken out of context.
“All cops are bastards” or A.C.A.B., is a common catchphrase with anarchist and antifa ties, used to protest unethical police behavior. Fortson’s tweet was a follow-up to a prior post about a Texas arrest.
There are any number of elements about this that worry us, especially that anyone would ever threaten physical harm to a child over the exercise of free speech.
We won’t attempt to settle if free speech should have necessarily led the school board to disavow Fortson’s tweet, or if Fortson should have been recalled, given the tweet. Our editorial board is implacably divided on these subjects, however, we all agree that the very nature of the discourse frays at the delicate fibers that bind a democratic society together.
Some of us believe that the school board’s statement was sent in haste, without due process or investigation into the matter. Others believe that the school board acted appropriately.
Catchphrase vs. Dialogue
We all agree that a society ruled by law and democracy requires law enforcement, or peace officers — while we recognize the myriad of issues surrounding policing that need to be addressed. In our own backyard, we were appalled by the recent Genesis Hansen arrest, which we know pales in comparison to what’s happening in other areas of the country -— not to mention the history of police brutality toward minority and vulnerable populations, such as the ones Fortson sought to serve.
We also believe that — under any context — a catchphrase that uses sweeping generalizations to stigmatize a group of individuals can only polarize people into camps of pro and con, when what’s needed is empathy, constructive conversation, and change.
There have been some social media comments that we’ve found deeply disturbing. For instance, we cannot imagine any reason to reveal school locations for Fortson’s children. Likewise, there were those seeking to cast suspicion that local police would not do all they could to investigate the threats against Fortson and their children.
Concerningly, a number of social media posts showed too many people don’t actually understand that school board members are not hired or fired by the school district, or its board — that only the voters can do that. Which leads us to a final observation.
If not for the threats and Fortson’s pursuant resignation, what would the democratic process have done? There would almost certainly have been a recall effort, the results of which we will never know. It appears to us that this is yet another example of how violence can be used to obstruct democracy.