By Tarrah Baptista —
Charlotte, North Carolina fire investigator Crystal Eschert was recently fired from her job for supposedly posting “offensive” comments to her private Facebook page in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Since then, Ms. Eschert and her attorney have been fighting to get her job back, alleging she was really fired in retaliation for her whistleblowing during a prior investigation.
In August 2014, Ms. Eschert embarrassed the Charlotte Fire Department by sending her immediate supervisor and city council member a report that pointed to discrepancies in permits and renovations that were taking place in a city building.
Shortly after Ms. Eschert issued her report, Fire Chief Jon Hannan and Police Chief Rodney Monroe received an email complaining of Ms. Eschert’s “offensive” Facebook comments.
Here is what the city’s top fireman and cop found so offensive:
“White guy shot by police yesterday near Ferguson. . . .Where is Obama? Where is Holder? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are Trayvon Martin’s parents? Where are all the white guy’s supporters? So why is everyone making it a racial issue? [I’m] so tired of hearing it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race. You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are!”
That is what Ms. Eschert posted to her personal online Facebook account.
Clearly, nothing in Ms. Eschert’s personal musings warranted punishment of any kind. Even black civil rights activist John Barrett of Charlotte, after reading her commentary, agreed that she shouldn’t have been fired over it.
Supporters say that Ms. Eschert is the only city employee to ever have been fired under this blatantly anti-First Amendment policy.
Ms. Eschert’s attorney, Margaret Maloney, contends that the email that was used to initially file a claim against Ms. Eschert came from someone inside the Charlotte City government.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann denies the allegation, arguing that Ms. Eschert’s case is similar to one heard in 2006 by a federal court of appeals, which resulted in the firing of a New York city police officer and two fire firefighters who had participated in a parade wearing “afro” wigs and blackface on a float that was made to look like buckets of fried chicken.
Many wonder why Ms. Eschert and her attorney are not refuting her termination as a violation of her First Amendment rights.
The current government position, assuming this firing is genuinely a reflection of it, is clearly an attack on free speech, a right of the people guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
This case has raised questions and concerns about what Americans are able to say even if on their own personal, private Internet accounts.
Tarrah Beth Baptista is a freelance writer, and a contributor of the annual Freedompalooza festival. She’s currently scouting speakers and vendors for future Freedompalooza events. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.