(** UPDATE FOLLOWS AT BOTTOM.)
Mark Miller isn't a subtle guy.
Miller, treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), recently apologized publicly after using the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to tweet a comment comparing the attacks to a political battle about the planned Cincinnati streetcar system.
Now Miller has posted an altered photograph on his Facebook page that some people believe is racist. The photo depicts a streetcar filled with young African-American males brandishing weapons. The streetcar has a sign that reads, “Banks & Freedom Center Only.”
“Freedom Center” is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
It's a downtown museum that commemorates the safe houses and secret
routes, known as the Underground Railroad, that African-American slaves
used on their way to northern free states in the 19th century.
The photo illustration was originally posted by D. Sean Farris, a University of Cincinnati student who is an intern with the Hamilton County Republican Party. Farris has volunteered on some local GOP political campaigns including that of Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray. Ironically, Farris is African-American.Miller reposted Farris' photo on his own Facebook page. Farris' original comment under the photo was, “This is might actually happen (sic) Lol”
Although it's more understandable that a young, impulsive college student might not understand the controversy and implications created by the photo, a middle-aged, political veteran like Miller certainly knows. The photo's message: “If the streetcar system is built, scary black men will be coming after you, with guns.”
COAST opposes the streetcar system, and has teamed with the NAACP's local chapter in gathering enough signatures to place an initiative, Issue 48, on the November ballot. If approved, the charter amendment would would prohibit Cincinnati from building any type of passenger rail system on public roads or public rights-of-way through Dec. 31, 2020. Because of the issue's broad wording, written by COAST leader Chris Finney, legal experts say it also would block commuter rail and light rail projects, not just the streetcar.
Then-local NAACP President Christopher Smitherman helped create Issue 48 and has appointed Finney to the local chapter's executive committee as legal counsel. (Smitherman temporarily has stepped down from the presidency while he runs for City Council.)
Smitherman couldn't be reached for his comments on the Facebook image. Still, one wonders how the photo would sit with much of the local chapter's membership.
On Sept. 11, Miller generated buzz on Twitter with the following post: “3% of FDNY died 10 yrs ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownout to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?”
When informed about the photo, Murray acted quickly to tell Farris that she didn't support it and thought it was improper.
“I don't think it's appropriate at all and I told him he needs to take it down,” Murray said. Farris has no official connection to Murray's campaign, she said, adding. “He's a college volunteer who will come and march in parades.”
** UPDATE: COAST treasurer Mark Miller informed CityBeat that he was upset about wording used in the blog item that stated he “posted” or “reposted” the photo in question.
Miller stated he was tagged in the photo by Farris, and hadn't “knowingly published the photo himself.” Fair enough. Although the screen capture posted on the blog item seems to make the photo's origin clear, we will reemphasize it again.
What's also clear from the screen capture is the photo was posted on Facebook on July 26. It remained tagged to Miller for several weeks, which is how CityBeat became aware of its existence. If Miller had been offended by the association, a quick and simple click could have untagged himself from the photo, so it wouldn't appear on Miller's “wall.”
Our wording was inexact. Instead of stating, “Now Miller has posted an altered photograph on his Facebook page that some people believe is racist,” the passage should have read, “Now Miller has allowed to be displayed on his Facebook page an altered photograph that some people believe is racist.”
Further, several people contacted CityBeat to state they've seen the same photo posted previously on COAST's blog. We've been unable to verify the allegation, as a visit to the blog revealed the photo isn't currently posted there. Whether it ever was, therefore, will remain unknown for now, along with who created the photo.