Aug. 30-Recently-obtained emails contradict a characterization provided to the Lebanon Democrat by Mt. Juliet Vice Mayor Ray Justice regarding a Blue Lives Matter flag on city property and his controversial follow-up Facebook posts.
In his interview at the time, Justice indicated that the writer of the email "did not like that we were flying a flag that supported police officers on city property."
However, the original email, which was sent by a Mt. Juliet resident to city commissioners and other Mt. Juliet officials, did not indicate that the resident expressed opposition to law enforcement.
In the original email, the resident explained their position as it related specifically to the background of the Blue Lives Matter flag, also known as the Thin Blue Line American Flag, which they said largely emerged as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"The Blue Lives Matter movement was created in direct opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement," reads the original email. "Its arrival was intended to dilute the message and silence the outcry against police violence and disproportionate Black deaths. Therefore, many see the flag as not support for the police, but (as) a dog whistle for racist policies and actions."
The original email also expressed support for a hypothetical flag that would simply read "we support our Mt. Juliet Police," saying that would be "a better alternative that would also show respect for the lives of all residents."
On Monday, Justice voiced that his perception of the original email was disparaging of police, because it suggested that there was a link between law enforcement and those with racist, white-supremacist positions.
"I didn't discount (the resident's) perspective, but I am not shirking my responsibility to the people who protect and serve the community they live in," Justice said. "I can't help what other people think but I can't take what is symbolic of something good and dismiss it."
Mt. Juliet has since taken down the flag, and replaced it with two other flags, Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line flags.
In the wake of the email, Justice posted his reaction on his personal Facebook page and his now-deleted vice-mayor page, which included a controversial footnote message.
"DO NOT bring your liberal leanings here when they include hatred for our police officers," the post read. "What you're leaning on won't support you, and neither will the rest of our community. WE SUPPORT OUR POLICE AND OUR FIRST RESPONDERS."
Justice said that he deleted the vice-mayor page due to vulgar comments appearing on the page.
One member of the Mt. Juliet community, Susan Warburton, spoke out about Justice's divisive comments and his online interactions with residents.
"For me personally, I'm more upset about his inflammatory comments towards 'liberals' in this community by stating our views are not welcome by him or the rest of the community," Warburton said.
Warburton mentioned that she posted in the comment section on the original post and that Justice responded to her twice in a private message.
"I preferred to keep comments public," Warburton said.
Warburton said that Justice blocked her from viewing his personal and public vice-mayor pages.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union's Vera Eidelman in 2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the "interactive portion of a public official's Facebook page is a public forum."
The ruling stated that an "official cannot block people from it because of the opinions they hold."
Warburton also indicated that the page became a breeding ground for hostility.
"Reviewing comments under his personal page clearly shows hostile reactions from the community that support him and are fanning the flames of political discourse," Warburton said. "I'm highly disappointed in city officials not addressing these hurtful comments. He continues to be untruthful in his comments, emails, and public Facebook posts about the reason for the original email to city officials regarding the American flag rendition of the Thin Blue Line flag."
Warburton said that she would have liked to see Justice unblock citizens from his public vice-mayor page, retract his inflammatory comments with political leanings different from his and would like now like him to issue a public apology.