Carol Stream mayor, trustee face criticism for offensive social media posts

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Social media posts by Carol Stream Mayor Frank Saverino and a village trustee have sparked controversy and led to calls for board members to receive anti-racism and implicit-bias training.

Saverino has drawn criticism from some residents, activists and students for what they say is a history of sharing Facebook memes promoting racist, Islamaphobic and homophobic views through widely circulated images and crude humor. One meme Saverino reposted on his Facebook page two years ago used a slur offensive to people with disabilities while referring to liberals.

Saverino pushed back against the criticism during recent board meetings and in an interview with the Daily Herald, saying he was stunned by it and defending himself as a community booster and staunch supporter of law enforcement.

When asked about some of the memes, Saverino told the Daily Herald Wednesday he didn’t mean to offend anyone.

"Am I sorry I posted it? Well, I won’t ever make that mistake again, I can tell you that," he said. "I didn’t realize how sensitive some people were."

Saverino said he doesn’t remember sharing the content on his personal page, where he also announces official village business, but he has invited anyone who wants to challenge his actions to meet with him face to face.

"To be put in the category of being a racist when some of my friends are African American, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, I’m really confused here if they were really talking about me or if they were talking about somebody else," Saverino said at one board meeting. "Because to me, it’s very hurtful, to do what I do for the people that I do things for, it’s never based on race, color, creed. It’s based purely on need."

While trustees have either come to the mayor’s defense or remained silent, his critics say his comments fail to acknowledge their concerns.

"That statement of ‘I have Black friends,’ that’s kind of a racist ideology to begin with because it stems from the fact ‘I allow a person of color in my space, therefore I am absolved of anything that I say or do because I could not possibly be racist,’" said Meggie Hernandez-Zayas, who, after she moved to the village two years ago, started Carol Stream Community Activists, a Facebook group with about 130 members.

Stephanie Biegel, a 2019 trustee candidate, addressed a three-page letter to the board outlining about a half dozen examples of Saverino’s posts, several of which "imply that white people are the only people that can be made fun of or discriminated against."

A screenshot shows Saverino shared a meme in 2018 that states, "Make fun of a Black or Muslims lose your career — make fun of your president, Christians or whites, get praised!"

"These statements demonstrate a very callous attitude toward demographics who have been marginalized by oppression that has been occurring for hundreds of years due to their race," Biegel wrote.

A fake photo appearing to show former President Barack Obama kissing former British Prime Minister David Cameron also appeared on Saverino’s page in 2018. Facebook has since removed the image.

Arsima Araya, a Black student at Glenbard North High School, said it was hurtful to see the posts when the content resurfaced on the Carol Stream Community Activists group. The student, who’ll be a senior this fall, attended her first board meeting this week with five other speakers who made in-person and virtual comments about the posts and race relations in the village.

Araya, Hernandez-Zayas and others say they want the leaders of the village, where Black residents constitute about 7.5% of the population, to participate in long-term training on identifying racism and social media responsibility as a first step for accountability.

Trustee Mary Frusolone said the board plans to set up training sessions in August.

"We have a lot to learn," she said. "We have a lot of listening to do, and we plan on doing that as a board."

Trustee John LaRocca, meanwhile, has apologized for sharing a Facebook post circulating rumors about a supposed flag-burning protest at Gettysburg on July 4 and calling Juneteenth a "nonexistent holiday."

LaRocca said he made a "big mistake" by not thoroughly reading the post and checking its validity. One person urged him to step down, but LaRocca said he has no intention of doing so.

"I’m going to use all the comments by everybody to be a better trustee and to be more aware of racism that exists," he said. "I will do my very best to do that."

Saverino said he doesn’t discriminate and he points to his record of volunteerism and his work with "physically challenged people" through the Italian American Sports Hall Of Fame over the past 25 years. He was first elected village president in 2007.

"I love people. I love this town. The history I’ve got here is loud and clear," said Saverino, likening Carol Stream to television’s Mayberry.

He’s also said that no matter what he posts on Facebook, "someone will take it wrong every time."

"You’ve pegged me the wrong way, and that was a terrible mistake because that’s not — what you see with me is what you get," Saverino said during a board meeting last month. "And if I gave you that impression that I’m a bigot or homophobic or a racist, I don’t know how that possibly could have happened."

Hernandez-Zayas accepted LaRocca’s apology and said he set an example for taking accountability. She also doesn’t deny that board members have "done good things" for Carol Stream.

But she and Biegel say they’ve struggled to speak up about issues, with Hernandez-Zayas citing the mayor’s "slightly passive aggressive comments" at meetings.

"I think it’s time to admit that there’s a problem and take steps toward personal and community growth," she said.

26-Delivered

via Daily Herald

July 8, 2020 at 09:56PM

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