There’s no doubt but that the action was shameful and reprehensible. That would be true at any time, but that it occurred during a national outpouring of rage against racial inequality made it all the more startling and painful.
Craig Fishbein is a Wallingford town councilor and state representative, two positions he has managed to handle with energy and skill. But the Republican did serious, perhaps irredeemable, damage to those efforts recently when he shared a meme on Twitter that delivered a message of racism.
The post does not deserve repeating, nor did it deserve seeing the light of day in any society that values understanding and respect. But illustrating Fishbein’s offense demands it be repeated: It shows an image of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden giving a speech with the words “If you aren’t setting fire to buildings THEN YOU AIN’T BLACK” on top of the image. It was a play on a statement made by Biden, “If you’ve got a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.” Biden had said that during a radio program, and it was considered a major faux pas because of its insensitivity.
As for the message that he retweeted, Fishbein said it “mischaracterized recent comments from a presidential candidate and related them to protests in response to the unimaginable and very tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota.”
Floyd’s death, on May 25 in Minneapolis, has sparked outrage that has reached globally, and has included protests against racism and police brutality.
Said Fishbein, whose 90th District includes parts of Wallingford and Cheshire: “I shared the meme without comment in a subtle attempt to point out a double standard regarding political speech. Without explanation, there was no context. I was wrong.”
For its part, Connecticut’s Republican Party offered the tired strategy of attempting to redirect instead of addressing Fishbein’s offensive action. “It’s disturbing that the Connecticut media didn’t ask a single Democrat about the original comment” by Biden, said J.R. Romano, state Republican Party chairman.
Fishbein has tried harder. Along with his apology, he joined in the Wallingford Town Council vote to censure him.
But he clearly needs to do more. A challenger recently emerged in the race for the 90th District. Jim Jinks, a Democratic town councilor in Cheshire, has already criticized the retweet. “In a time where we need leaders to listen with open minds and empathy and help bring our community together, his actions were incredibly divisive,” said Jinks.
It’s clear now that Fishbein is going to have to work incredibly hard to win back the trust lost so quickly with a single click of the mouse button. Amid calls for his resignation it will be an uphill challenge. His apology and regret need to be followed by action that shows how he’s learned from the experience. His constituents need to see him make that effort.