Irvine Mayor Christina Shea under fire for comments criticizing Black Lives Matter protests
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea has been under fire for comments she’s made about Black Lives Matter protests in Irvine, as well as for deleting comments and blocking supporters of the movement who criticize her on her Facebook profile.
“I will not allow my city to become a location for expressions of anger and hate against my residents and my stellar police force who I stand behind 100%,” Shea said in a “Mayor’s Corner” video posted online on Thursday.
She continued that while she supports peaceful demonstrations, “I do not personally support displays that host profanity, comment of our police officers being racist or promoting hostility, especially when families with small children are attending these protests.”
Dozens showed up to Friday’s press conference at City Hall, which was co-organized by Thurgood Marshall Bar Assn., Orange County’s only black bar association, and activist groups OCERC and Yalla Indivisible to address the comments.
“Some of what the concerns are, broadly speaking, [that] the mayor’s comments appear to attempt to quell protesters’ right to free speech and right to assembly,” Thurgood Marshall board member Denise Carter said over the phone. “She attempts to tell protesters what they can and cannot say, including saying she won’t stand for cursing and calling the police racist.
“A very common protest chant is ‘No justice, no peace, no racist police.’ If she’s trying to quell people’s ability to speak out on that, that’s going to be problematic.”
Despite Shea’s rhetoric about “destructive and radical behavior we have seen in our communities this past week,” Irvine Police Cmdr. Noelle Smiley said there have been no arrests made since the protests began about a week ago.
The Irvine Police Department thanked the protesters after the large Wednesday protest on its Twitter account for “peacefully expressing” their views at the demonstration.
Shea said over the phone that she has not attended any of the Irvine protests.
The bar association, other legal experts and residents are also criticizing Shea for deleting posts from her personal Facebook page from residents who disagree with her.
Shea posted a comment to her personal Facebook page on Thursday morning, the day after a large protest at Irvine City Hall, responding to those calling for a reduction in police spending.
“I will continue to support our law enforcement in Irvine with the top dollars we expend to keep us safe,” Shea said. “I won’t be diminishing their budget. If that isn’t your interest, perhaps living in another community that hosts different values, a less safe environment would best suit your lifestyle.
“We are a diverse community with over 150 languages and my goal is to continue the course ... keep us safe and show the tolerance, protection and love our residents deserve. Creating a false narrative of who I am ... what my goals are and my values is a political agenda that is transparent and your right.”
A few days prior, Shea referred to Floyd’s death as “senseless,” but said, “I have instructed my Chief to take whatever measures are appropriate to ensure a safe demonstration.”
Shea said over the phone that she deleted comments and blocked several users.
“They are literally attacking and accusing and threatening me, and I made it clear that if you continue this I will block you,” Shea said.
Jessica Ortega, an Irvine resident, said she was blocked after posting comments to Shea’s personal Facebook page. She said she knew a few others who had also been blocked for comments critical of Shea, who is up for reelection in November.
“If I can’t express myself to my own mayor for change, then I don’t feel like my voice is ever going to be heard,” Ortega said.
Local legal experts said there is a difference between politicians regulating comments on personal social media profiles as opposed to official ones.
On May 31, Shea posted a statement about the protests to her personal and professional Facebook pages, signing both as “Mayor Christina Shea.”
That post, and the others about the protests, have since been taken down from her personal page.
“When government officials use social media clearly in their governmental capacities, then if they are going to allow comments, they can’t discriminate on the basis of the content of those comments,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel and 1st Amendment attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Government officials can act as private citizens and use social media as private citizens, in those cases they are free to choose whether they want to delete comments or allow them or pick or choose among them.
“There is quite a bit of official content on both of [Shea’s] pages, and we do have serious concerns about Mayor Shea’s blocking comments on one of her Facebook sites.”
Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at UCI Law, agreed that the question of legality is a complicated one if politicians post on both their personal and official accounts.
“If her Facebook account is her personal then she can do what she wants to on that account,” Goodwin said. “But what we have seen in recent years is politicians blurring those lines, using those platforms to express their official views.”
Goodwin said even if Shea’s actions are legal, she doesn’t agree with them.
“It’s not always what is legal that happens to be what is right,” Goodwin said.
Shea said over the phone that she generally tries to refrain from posting professional statements to her personal Facebook page. She said the May 31 post was likely a mistake made by a new staffer.
Shea also said she has since made her personal Facebook page private so the public cannot view her posts, though as of press time, posts on her personal Facebook are still visible.
“Those that were continually accusing and attacking me unfairly, they have a right to do that, but that’s my personal page,” Shea said. “If they want, they can send an email to the city or comment on my public page. They can do whatever they want. But on my personal page, this is my family, friends and community members that I interface with, and I am not going to have that turn into some hostile, aggressive debate anymore.”
She continued: “I talked to my city manager, and he said for the years he’s been involved with people that are involved in protests, he said you can’t have a normal dialogue with them. All they want to do is create unrest and be aggressive and you can’t get anywhere. I have been honestly trying to communicate on a fair basis and have dialogue, but these people, some not all, do not want to have a dialogue in a good conversation.”
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