Barry Saunders

Burned by a hot take in our forever-outraged culture – Saunders

Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson at a rally in March against a new $81 million Durham police headquarters planned for East Main Street downtown.
Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson at a rally in March against a new $81 million Durham police headquarters planned for East Main Street downtown.

Oh well, there goes her shot at the presidency of the United States.

Her chances of becoming president of the Durham City Council aren’t looking so bright, either.

After one former organizer and community activist ascended to the highest office in the land, community activists the world over probably feel they, too, can realistically aspire to that office.

All of them, that is, except Durham city councilwoman and community activist Jillian Johnson. After a posting on Facebook that some are interpreting as anti-cop and anti-military went viral, the first paragraph of every story about her from now on will contain this:

“I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people, but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.”

That is what’s known in the social media world as a “hot take.” Scorching, even. Her Facebook post about taking guns from “dangerous people” has given critics ammunition to come after her and demand her resignation and an apology. They’re getting neither.

From the outrage generated by her post, you’d think Johnson had gone all N.W.A. – look it up – on law enforcement. She didn’t, but her displeasure with the military and the PoPo in their current forms was clear. The culture within both needs to be changed, she wrote and elucidated upon in a later posting and in a phone conversation.

People familiar with Johnson, especially those who voted for her, knew they were getting an intrepid, outspoken advocate. Theirs are the responses, no doubt, that are counterbalancing what she called “the racist and sexist” fusillade of invective being fired at her, the “ad hominem, inaccurate insults” devoid of substance.

Her post, she said, was part of “an ongoing conversation with people in my community about issues of violence. ... It doesn’t surprise me that folks outside of that conversation would have a different view from folks inside my community.”

Johnson said the original comments were posted on her private Facebook page, which she said is a frequent forum for “conversations with folks around gun control, street violence ... the role of police and the military at home and abroad. It’s a very diverse group.”

Her subsequent post, on her “public page,” she said, “was my attempt to make more clear exactly my positions with regard to violence by the state and the military.”

She does realize that when you’re an elected official nothing, for better or worse, is private – especially nothing posted on the Internet, right?

“I realize that nothing is private, not even this phone conversation,” she said. “What I didn’t realize is that there are people who were looking at my Facebook page and looking to cause trouble. I’ll be more careful with my privacy settings from now on.”

Privacy settings, my butt. While even public officials are entitled to their views, there are some views that – if expressed at all – should be expressed among friends, sitting face to face on some beanbag chairs with a bottle of Mogen David truth serum or at the barbershop or beauty parlor. As appreciative as her constituents are of her worldview, Johnson needs to realize that public officials’ utterances and postings are held to a different standard than those of private citizens.

Her provocative-though-private post will henceforth color not only how her every utterance as a council member is interpreted, but how every vote she casts is viewed.

Historians looking back on this period had better have a bottle of Pepto Bismol close at hand. Among other things, they will conclude that we are living in the Age of Outrage, an age in which some people walk around in a perpetual state of pearl-clutching, assiduously seeking something about which to be upset, forever ready to exclaim “Why, I nevah!”

Just last week, there was a weak attempt at an uproar when evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr. posed for a picture with Donald Trump, Falwell’s wife and himself standing in front of a wall adorned with Trump posing on the cover of Playboy magazine with a Playmate.

Heavens to Betsy!

A public apology was demanded of even me, someone whose life’s mission is to never upset anyone’s morning farina, for allegedly insulting Waffle House waitresses in a column. No apology was forthcoming, because I didn’t do it, wouldn’t do it and because I’ve never met a Waffle House waitress I didn’t love.

Not only is this the Age of Let’s Find Something To Get Outraged About, but it’s also the Age In Which Public Officials – and One Public Official Aspirant In Particular – Can Say Whatever Outlandish Thing That Pops Into Their Head And Still Get Within Waffle-tossing Range of the White House.

Johnson may find it disconcerting, then, that she may have just ruined her chance to be council president.

For the record, she said she has no plans to run for president.