Dearborn Mayor: 'Zero Tolerance' for Hate Posting on Sports Illustrated Burkini Model
SOURCE: DETROIT FREE PRESS
BY: NIRAJ WARIKOO
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. has strongly condemned a Facebook post demeaning Muslims that was allegedly written by a city employee, launching an investigation into the source of the offensive remark.
“I have zero tolerance for the type of language used in the Facebook comment,” O’Reilly said Monday in a statement.
On Saturday, WXYZ-TV in Detroit posted a photo on Facebook and link of model Halima Aden, a Muslim woman of Somali descent who often wears Islamic clothing such as hijab, the headscarf. The photo was of Aden appearing in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. Aden was lying on a beach smiling while wearing a swimsuit known as a burkini, that covered her entire body. It was the first time a Muslim woman wearing a burkini had appeared in the issue.
In the comment on Facebook, part-time city employee Bill Larion allegedly made a derogatory remark about Aden, comparing her to a camel. That type of reference is often used in negative ways to denigrate Muslims and Arabs.
The alleged post, which has since been deleted, was screen-shot by the Facebook page Dearborn Area Community Members and then shared, prompting an intense discussion over the weekend among residents. Some called for him to be reprimanded while others say he should be forgiven.
“There is so much hate towards Muslims coming from all over the country,” said Majed Moughni, an attorney who administers the Facebook page that shared the post. “The last place we need it coming from is an employee who works for City Hall.”
In a statement, O’Reilly said: “The comment violates the City of Dearborn’s values and practices, as well as our expectations for employees. It violates the very heart of our mission statement, which is that we must earn the public’s trust in everything we do.”
According to 2017 Census figures, Dearborn’s population is more than 46% Arab-American, most of whom, experts say, are Muslim. The city has several mosques and is known for being a significant center for Islam in the U.S.
O’Reilly has sought to unify the city at a time when it is increasingly being targeted, and falsely accused of being run by Islamic law.
“We are extremely proud of our diversity and consider it a strength and an advantage,” O’Reilly said. “So we will continue to nurture it and to condemn words or actions that attempt to divide us.”
Larion’s Facebook page could not be found online and neither could the original post. His profile page had said he worked in the engineering division at the City of Dearborn, according to screenshots. City spokesperson Mary Laundroche confirmed that he works for the city.
Larion could not be reached for comment on Monday. Laundroche said she was not aware of any statement from him.
The city added that the comment posted on Saturday night “was not posted during City of Dearborn business hours, but its content is in opposition to the City’s mission statement.”
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking Dearborn to discipline the employee.
“We call on Dearborn officials to reprimand this city employee who clearly holds such racist views while working for a city that has almost half of its population comprising of Arab-Americans and Muslims,” said CAIR Michigan’s executive director, Dawud Walid.
The city said it provides its employees with training on discrimination, sexual harassment, and cultural sensitivity.
“The City requires that all employees treat people of all backgrounds with respect,” said the city in its Monday statement. “That expectation carries over into employees’ behavior off hours, when, under certain situations, their actions can be considered a reflection on the City of Dearborn.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 313-223-4792, Twitter @nwarikoo