Local News, Massachusetts, News, Politics, SE Mass

Town representative defends racially-charged posts after outcry

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — The controversy over questionable Facebook posts shared by an elected town representative has increased after the man responded to the outcry that the posts he shared were offensive to Muslims and black people.

Paul Couturier represents Precinct 2 in North Attleboro’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and serves on several other town boards and committees. In February, he publicly shared a “meme,” or photo on his Facebook page of an open-mouthed shark with the caption “Throw me a Muslim.”

He also shared a photo of a gorilla, with a caption referencing the first lady. The posts have not been deleted.

(Screengrab from Facebook)
(Screengrab from Facebook)

“Why are people getting upset over a picture of a shark?” Couturier said in response to controversy over the posts. “Do you believe sharks can talk?”

Town Selectman Patrick Reynolds was the first town official to publicly condemn the posts.

“They definitely don’t reflect the values of this community,” Reynolds said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Reynolds says Couturier’s response – which included claiming Islam is not a religion, but a group that beheads people – makes the situation even worse.

“The job of a representative is to represent 100 percent of the people in your precinct,” Reynolds said. “That includes every religion, every race and everyone in between.”

Several other town officials were either reluctant to comment on the record, or would not take a stance, stating that voters would decide on Couturier’s fate in April. The town’s Select Board chairman Paul Belham initially made comments to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle that he couldn’t condemn the First Amendment rights of a veteran.

(Screengrab from Facebook)
(Screengrab from Facebook)

Thursday, he sought to clarify those comments in a statement to Eyewitness News.

“I do not want my comments on the Couturier posts to mean anything other than to say we all enjoy freedom of speech and its protection,” Belham said. “It does not mean that I or we should condone racism, prejudice, or religious intolerance because I do not and we should not.”

Couturier is up for re-election in Precinct 2 on April 5.

North Attleboro voter Michael Donnelly said he won’t tell other residents how to vote, but he doesn’t think Couturier should win re-election.

“If that’s the way he feels, then he does not belong in that position,” Donelly said.

I asked what Donnelly thought of Couturier’s response to the controversy so far.

“You mean, lack of [response]?” Donnelly said.

On Facebook Tuesday, Couturier shared a third photo, this time of a kitten. The accompanying post read:

“Since at least one of you is offended by pictures of a animals that I post, will you find this animal picture offensive too?????”

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