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April 29, 2013

Board member removes offensive Facebook post

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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A Roseville school board member removed this post from his Facebook wall after learning it was viewed as offensive.

ROSEVILLE — A Facebook post from a Roseville Community Schools board member stirred community unease last week.

The post, which has since been removed, depicted the three victims killed in the Boston Marathon bombings and read, “The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says that ‘Islamophobia’ is the biggest problem in American-Islamic Relations. Well … I’m thinking maybe it’s dead Americans.”

Board Vice President Alfredo Francesconi, who reposted the poster from a friend’s wall, said he never meant it to offend anyone — of Islamic heritage or any other heritage.

“I just saw it and reposted it,” said Francesconi April 22, a few days after the poster went up on his wall. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I didn’t think anything of it and it doesn’t mean anything to me; if someone said they were offended by it, I’d take it down.”

And, after learning that the post had offended, he immediately took it down. Francesconi said he didn’t take the statement on the poster literally and didn’t mean for anyone else to, but he maintained there was some truth behind the words.

Not everyone felt the same. On April 22, the Eastsider received an email regarding the post, saying that the photo insinuates all Muslims are terrorists and that posting it was inappropriate, especially from a school board member in a district where Muslim children attend school.

Representatives from CAIR felt the same way about the post.

“We are firm believers in free speech, even if it is anti-Muslim bigoted speech, but when you are in a public position, you should be aware of the image you create by re-posting something like this,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director at CAIR.

“Particularly someone associated with an educational institution should be especially careful of the image they create, as it creates an atmosphere where Muslim students feel besieged.”

Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR Michigan, said even though the state hosts the largest, and still growing, population of Muslim-Americans, anti-Muslim sentiment still exists in some areas.

“We’ve seen similar posts before, but they’re not usually from that part of the state,” Walid said. “I know for a fact there are Muslim children in Roseville and such reckless comments, although unjustifiable, could be understood if the person lived in a rural area where there was no Muslims, but it’s mind-boggling that a public official, especially in metro Detroit, would post that.”

Francesconi said that he didn’t mean to indicate that all Muslims were involved in terrorist activity and, as soon as he learned the post had been viewed as offensive, he removed it from his wall.

“No, I don’t think all Muslims kill Americans,” he said. “It’s not Muslims. It’s Muslim extremists. I’m not racist and I’d take it down if it offended anyone, but I don’t care what people think of me. I’m not racist and I did not mean it in a racist way.”

Walid was happy to hear the post had already been removed by the time he heard about it, but said if children saw the post, it could lead to increased instances of bullying, especially following the Boston Marathon bombing.

“We have had increased complaints of bullying in a number of schools, primarily in Oakland County,” he said.

CAIR offers a variety of services, including assistance to parents and children affected by bullying. For more information about CAIR Michigan, visit www.cairmichigan. org or call (248) 559-2247.

Sources in administration were unable to provide specific information pertaining to the district’s Muslim student population, but they did say the district is committed to meeting the diverse educational needs of the community.

School Board President Theresa Genest did not return contact attempts at press time.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.