Crestview Councilman Joe Blocker’s attempt to stanch one man’s freedom of expression met with our readers’ passionate opposition.
It began when a Crestview resident — who wrote a letter to the editor a few weeks ago suggesting possible causes for perceived stagnant development — used strong words to criticize the city council.
Could corruption be the root of Crestview’s stunted commercial growth, or is it city leaders’ personal interest, the writer said.
Blocker soon sent the newspaper a signed “demand” for an apology. Since then, readers on our website and Facebook page expressed unanimous support for the writer’s freedom of speech. Many chided Blocker and reminded him that he is a public servant who is not above criticism.
We see it every day: elected officials and community leaders who see any criticism as a stain on the public relations campaign for their perfect Crestview.
Rather than face the problem head on, setting differences aside and engaging in a constructive dialog on perceived problems or areas of improvement, as true leaders do, a juggernaut of community leaders attempts to discredit dissenters.
In this case, just one council member attempted the discrediting, but the overreach symbolically threatened civil liberties — a trend in local and national politics.
For instance, Edward Snowden — the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed classified details on mass surveillance programs to newspapers — has been labeled a traitor by all the wrong folks. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are among those who have defined Snowden’s actions as treason.
Due process? Forget about it — and there goes another symbolic erosion of our rights.
Officials stand and fall on their words because any given comment — whether in a speech, in passing or on a Facebook page — could hint at how they shape policy.
Hyperbole from those without legislative authority serves as John and Jane Doe’s rare chance to give their two cents.
That’s why pointing these things out is so important.
Public officials should know better before calling Snowden a criminal — particularly since his actions likely don’t meet prosecution requirements. Those include aiding an opponent waging war with the U.S. or personally waging the war against his or her own country, according to analysis in the June 12 Washington Post.
Similarly, while we should respect our local leaders’ offices, north Okaloosa County officials, chamber of commerce leaders and other power brokers should realize that criticism comes with the job. Engaging it might actually boost the public relations factor — in the most literal way. Punishing dissent with the juggernaut is what breeds resentment.
A city in debate is not a city divided.
Rather, it is one that includes all opinions — including dissenters’ — as it boldly shapes a community’s promising future.