Peachtree City Council Member Terry Ernst issued an apology to “all true Americans that I may have offended” for an editorial he co-authored with resident Terry Garlock in which the two advocated for a law allowing law enforcement to use lethal force to stop looters, arsonists, and rioters.
The editorial was a response to the riots that occurred in Baltimore in the wake of the news of the death of Freddie Gray, for which six Baltimore officers have been indicted. In their letter, the two men criticized Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for not having police intervene to stop the rioting. As a solution, the two men recommended a new national law that would give governors authority to approve “lethal force by law enforcement and the National Guard to stop looters and arsonists whether in riots or in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake.”
The editorial advocated the new law and also asserted that televised images of looters being arrested, shot, and dead would go “a long way” to stopping the uncivilized behavior of looting.
“Dead looters on TV news would spread mortal fear in the hearts of opportunists causing the trouble, and would likely stop that behavior cold,” the letter said.
The Fayette County Democratic Committee issued a response, authored by Chairman Leonard Presberg, in which they asked the city to publicly disavow the sentiments expressed in the piece. Aside from an e-mail chain that was copied to local media, no public comment has been made.
Ernst wrote a response Wednesday in which he said his true intent “intent was to wake up America and take control of our country. The senseless killing, rioting, and destruction of property has gotten out of hand. The leadership of our country and our cities need to take the lead and find a way to bring these actions under control and stop the violence.”
Ernst also said that the “the City of Peachtree City nor the Police Department played any role in the letter published. I also did not seek the advice or approval of any of my fellow council members or any member of the city staff.”
He apologized at the end by saying he did not “thoroughly think through the editorial.”
In his response, Ernst did not retract the recommendation for a new law to allow the use of lethal force to stop looters. Asked to clarify his position on this statement, Ernst said “Think about your question, how else do you stop looters? Not lethal force but they need to be arrested. Force is the laying of ones hands on another.”
The letter itself, however, specifically calls for the approval of “lethal force by law enforcement and the National Guard to stop looters and arsonists.” Ernst did not respond when this was pointed out.
As to the assertion that televised images of “thugs being arrested, or shot dead while resisting, would go a long way in putting a stop to this uncivilized behavior,” Ernst would not answer directly. He said in his apology letter that he regretted that specific line.
In a response to Fayette Newspapers, he said the piece had not been advocating for looters to be killed.
“I am not advocating any looter to be killed. What the media shows on TV is not my call. I would hope that any looting could be stopped with a peaceful resolution but that does not always happen,” Ernst said.
Ernst also, in his letter, disagreed with some of the criticism from the Democratic Committee, saying he “did not seek to inflame divisions amongst us with racial and sexist rhetoric,” as Presberg charged in the letter.
“Mr. Presberg makes a statement that I do not believe in the United States Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love this country and this community with all my heart. I have served this country for over 40 years as a member of the United States Army, the Peachtree City Police Department, and currently as a City Council member. I understand my oath of office as a police officer and I am sworn to uphold that oath. My record will stand for itself,” Ernst wrote.