The Fayette County Democratic Committee is asking that Peachtree City leadership publicly disavow the sentiments expressed by Council Member Terry Ernst in a May 5 letter to the editor regarding rioting that occurred in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a widely covered national story that was the most recent in a string of incidents that have placed the issue of police use of force on the national stage.
In his letter, co-authored with resident Terry Garlock, the two men endorsed a new law that would approve the use of 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 letter also said that behavior like looting, rioting, and arson could likely be curtailed nationally if people saw “televised images of thugs being arrested, or shot dead while resisting.”
Seeing looters shot dead on television would instill fear and prevent others from looting, the two men argue.
“The word would spread like wildfire the police mean business, you can’t get away with this stuff any more while police stand around and watch, and it would stop. Dead looters on TV news would spread mortal fear in the hearts of opportunists causing the trouble, and would likely stop the behavior cold,” according to Ernst and Garlock.
Ernst is retired from the United States Army and the Peachtree City Police Department. In the letter, he and Garlock criticize the Mayor of Baltimore, President Barack Obama, and Attorney General Eric Holder for their response to Freddie Gray case and others like it.
“President Obama and now-former Attorney General Eric Holder have been fanning the flames of racial division for a long time while repeatedly throwing police under the bus. Their irresponsible public presumption of police guilt has given encouragement to the criminal element, seemingly granting the aggrieved class an entitlement to disrupt the peace, all while delivering a severe blow to police morale nationwide,” they wrote.
A response letter came from the Fayette Democratic Committee this week, asking for “someone from Peachtree City to speak out” about Ernst’s “inflammatory commentary.” The letter, signed by Fayette County Democratic Committee Chair Leonard Presberg, denounced the idea put forth in Ernst and Garlock’s letter as well as its rhetoric.
“While we agree with Mr. Ernst and abhor the actions of rioters and looters, whether prompted by police violence or championship game, we believe that statements that condone violence against American citizens and call for visuals of blood and deaths on national TV have no place in a civilized society. We also find it unfortunate that Mr. Ernst seeks to inflame divisions amongst us with his racial and sexist rhetoric. But ultimately what causes us to ask for this censure is that Mr. Ernst’s call for police violence is so profoundly anti-American,” the letter from the Democratic Committee stated.
The letter also called for the City Manager and Police chief to “make explicit that it is not City or Police policy for policemen to use deadly force in order to instill fear and to make explicit that all applicants for the new City Manager and Police Chief must disavow such policy.”
The letter goes on to say “Mr. Ernst’s call for police violence is so profoundly anti-American,” and that, “We don’t want a police force recruited based on a willingness to shoot people in order to spread fear. It is particularly troubling that Mr. Ernst is a former member of the department and we trust that his extreme views are the exception not the rule.”
An e-mail exchange happened Monday evening, which was received by all members of city council as well as interim Police Chief Stan Pye and local media.
In the exchange, Council Member Eric Imker said he remembered reading Ernst’s letter and his “initial reaction was disbelief. However, instead of immediately responding, I wanted to give myself time to reflect. Please understand, silence on my part is not consent.”
Council Member Mike King replied as well, causing a heated back and forth with Imker.
“While I fully realize that my friends Terry and Terry can speak for themselves, I must point out to you that their article is predicated upon the hypothetical scenario whereby governors of affected states having the authority to take such drastic action,” King wrote in his e-mail. “When we speak of civilized societies, we in effect speak of a people who obey laws in a society governed by the rule of law. Am I to assume the two of you condone the rampant arson, robbery, destruction of property, assault, etc that is the result of looting?”
Imker then responded: “What an idiotic thing to say. Of course no responsible person condones illegal acts. Do you condone the killing of someone for property damage and other non-lethal illegal acts? Of course you don’t … or do you? I prefer those who do those things be brought to trial and if found guilty be given appropriate punishment.”
To which King replied: “Idiotic? Then you and the Baltimore Mayor would stand together as your city is destroyed by mob violence. Perhaps you have a better way to stop it. I’m willing to listen.”
Ernst interjected then with his own e-mail: “Gentlemen, please. I will answer this professionally in due time. It was never my intent to say we should shoot anyone running down the street with a TV under his arm. But looters and rioters who have guns and knives and shoot at police or other innocent people trying to protect their business is another story. I ask that you give me time to prepare my response.”
Imker then replied: “The discussion with Mike is over. I won’t dignify his comments on this subject with a reply. I greatly dislike when people put words in my mouth. I see Terry is preparing to ‘walk back’ his comments and readdress them to fit the crime being committed. Great. I too never believed Terry advocated killing someone who was stealing a TV. I look forward to his new comments. Of course it will now include the new scenario of being threatened per Mr. King, ‘rioters who have guns and knives and shoot at police’ which of course should be defended. The original letter did not include this. So I expect it to be included now.”
Mayor Vanessa Fleisch also weighed in on the incident in an e-mail: “As American citizens, both Council Member Ernst and Terry Garlock have the right to express their opinions on any topic just as any American has the right to do. In my years of serving the people of Peachtree City I have never commented publicly on another official’s letter to the editor. But, to answer your question of whether or not I agree with Council Member Ernst and Terry Garlock’s article: the answer is no, I do not.”