Mayor of West York, Pa., resigns – a victory against hate speech?

The West York Council unanimously accepted Mayor Charles Wasko's offer to resign last night after the community spoke out against a series of his Facebook postings that many considered racist.

Mark Pynes/
Speakers voice their concerns about West York, Pa., Mayor Charles Wasko, over racist posts he made on his Facebook page, at an Oct. 3, 2016 borough council meeting in West York, Pa.

The mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania who came under fire late last month for posting racist memes on social media has resigned amid pressure from residents and other town officials.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko issued his resignation Monday night, just a few weeks after acknowledging that he posted racist content on Facebook and defended his actions by refusing to be "politically correct."

"I will say what is on my mind and what I believe in." Mr. Wasko told WHTM-TV. "The racist stuff, yeah, I'll admit I did that, and I don't care what people label me as."

Wasko’s words and attitude represented a growing urge to abandon what some see as politically correct speech for brash rhetoric, a movement that has gained momentum with Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. As Mr. Trump has voiced opinions backed with sometimes racist, sexist, and xenophobic remarks, some have worried that he’s set an example for other candidates and officials to engage in offensive and alienating speech.

The memes compared President Obama and his family to orangutans, joked about Muslims, and referenced Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest with a picture of flag-draped coffins, asking the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback to point out which coffins contain African-Americans so the flags can be removed.

The posts sparked outrage in the small community of around 4,500 residents, many of whom have said that they found them not only demeaning, but also dangerous to the groups Wasko mocked.

"He is not just distasteful, he is dangerous," said Put People First, York County member Carla Christopher, according to the New York Daily News. "He is dangerous to Hispanics, he is dangerous to African-Americans. He is dangerous to women, to our Muslim friends and neighbors. He is dangerous to the economic stability and future of this borough."

The town’s council accepted Wasko’s resignation Monday night, voting unanimously to have Shawn Mauck, the council’s president, take over as mayor when Wasko resigns on Friday.

"I’m going to do everything I can to reassure each and every one of you that there’s a better way to do this job," he said. "That we can build a better West York. And have a mayor that’s still active and worked with the council the legislative bodies."

Mr. Mauck also plans to tackle allegations of racism within West York’s police department. When a councilor said he’s heard that minorities worry about racial profiling while driving through the town, Mauck said he will encourage the council to adopt recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and will recommend new training programs to uphold those standards.

"The good news is we get to move on, and we're going to deal with the topic at hand and continue to heal our community and build a better West York," he said.

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