Recent racist comments by a Mohave County planning commissioner were written off as an unfortunate choice of words by the supervisor who appointed her. That’s quite an understatement. While LaJuana Gillette may not be a racist, her statements on her private Facebook profile were, in fact, rooted in racism.
Among other things, she said “we must stop the minorities from coming here and trying to change us.” How do you interpret a comment like that as anything but racist?
Supervisor Ron Gould recently appointed Gillette, an 84-year-old Lake Havasu City resident, to the county’s planning commission, and according to supervisors, Gould is the only one who can remove her. He says he has no intentions of doing so, chalking up her statements to a momentary lapse in judgment.
Gillette was quoted in other newspapers blaming another Facebook user for taking screenshots of her statements, made on her private page, and distributing it to a wider audience than she intended.
In the age of social media, there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. And even so, that’s not the point: There’s no excuse for casual racism, private or public. Make no mistake, Gillette is free to express her own opinions — the First Amendment guarantees her right to do so. However, free speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.
Words matter, after all. And these particular statements could matter a lot for Mohave County. Gillette sits on a board that hears appeals of planning decisions, and it’s not hard to imagine how her statements about race could become a liability for the county when it finds itself saddled with contentious zoning decisions to make.
Moreover, Gillette’s words put Lake Havasu City and Mohave County back into the national spotlight over an issue that we’ve wrestled with before.
Kingman is still reeling from its portrayal last year on a TV show hosted by Sacha Baron Cohen, which depicted people living in the Mohave County seat as intolerant of other races and religions. Then about a month ago, a TMZ show aired comments by one of its producers referring to Lake Havasu City as “KKK town.” Anyone who lives in Havasu knows that’s an unfair statement, but again, words matter. Viewers of that television show may take her words to heart.
We don’t believe Havasu and Mohave County have a racism problem. But at the same time, Havasu and Mohave County must confront casual racism. Statements based on negative stereotypes about people based on race, even those made as a joke or an off-handed comment, should have no place here.
— Today’s News-Herald