A planning commissioner of a Northern California city was removed from his post Friday night after saying that just as a forest fire clears dead brush, “the sick, the old, the injured” should be left to meet their “natural course in nature” during the coronavirus outbreak.
Via a Zoom meeting, the five-member City Council of Antioch, a city of about 110,000 people 35 miles east of Oakland, voted unanimously to remove Ken Turnage II from his post as chairman of the city’s planning commission.
Turnage, who owns a home restoration company in Antioch, had characterized the elderly, the homeless and people with weak immune systems as a drain on society who should be left to perish as COVID-19 sweeps through Contra Costa County, where it has killed 28 people and infected 907 to date.
“If we were to live our lives, let nature run its course, yes we will all feel hardship, we will all feel loss,” he wrote on Facebook. But “as a species,” he continued, the deaths would alleviate strain on the country’s healthcare and Social Security systems and free up jobs and housing.
As for “our homeless and other people who just defile themselves by either choice or mental issues,” Turnage wrote, the virus would “fix what is a significant burden on our society.”
Turnage said in a phone interview that despite his history of “provoking dialogue and discussion” on his Facebook page, he knew these comments were “a little more edgy” as he wrote them.
He insisted his personal views had no bearing on his duties as a planning commissioner.
For several hours on the conference call, city officials read aloud comments submitted by 92 people, who by turns voiced support for Turnage and disgust for his statements. How could Turnage be trusted with shaping city development on the planning commission, some asked, after describing homeless people as a “significant burden” that a deadly virus could “fix?”
His words were “Nazi-like,” one said, espousing “a Hitler death wish” and a “lawsuit waiting to happen.”
“Repulsive enough to gag a maggot,” said another.
One woman, who said she was 72 years old and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, asked: “If someone is my age, do we simply let them die?”
But others defended Turnage’s right to express his views on a personal Facebook account, no matter their substance. By stripping the commissioner of his post, the City Council was trampling freedom of speech, they said.
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“Communism in the making,” one remarked.
Another said Turnage was simply expressing an uncomfortable truth: That the economic shutdown was causing more damage than the virus, which this resident called “no worse than the flu.”
After the council stripped him of his post, Turnage said that if residents had lost confidence in him, “that’s their opinion and I can’t help that.” As for residents comparing his views to Nazism, he said: “It’s for shock value. That analogy does not go together.” He was “naive,” he said, to think he could provoke “not a mainstream conversation.”
“It’s not like it used to be,” he lamented, “when you could have an opinion, talk about it and then sit down and have a beer together and talk about football.”