Newton County Commissioner John Douglas came under fire this week for using racist, sexist language to describe a protestor on Facebook who he accused of desecrating the American flag.
Douglas, who is white, posted a comment on a photograph of a black woman wiping her backside with the American flag as part of the #NotMyFlag social media movement intended to draw attention to institutionalized racism.
“She is just a cheap, street walker knee grow who lays down for white men," the comment read.
In commissioner comments Tuesday night, Douglas said he lost his temper when he wrote the comment but quickly deleted it. It seems someone took a screengrab of the comment and sent it to Channel 11 reporter Catie Beck, who confronted Douglas in a televised report that aired Thursday night.
In a separate post on Facebook, Douglas said he regretted the “very insensitive racial words” he used.
“However, after serving for many years in uniform, walking through countless military cemeteries and attending more military funerals than I can count as Chairman of the GA Senate Veterans Committee during the Iraq war, I saw red when I saw this desecration,” he wrote. “Unfortunately I put myself on her level by using hurtful and insensitive words.”
“Again, I am very sorry for being insensitive but I hope you can understand how I lost my cool when I first saw this,” he wrote.
The Newton County Democratic Party issued a statement late Thursday condemning Douglas' "disgusting Facebook rant" and calling for his immediate resignation. Douglas is a Republican.
"While we vehemently disagree with the woman’s actions, we believe she has a constitutionally protected right to express her opinions of how this country has treated people of color for centuries," the party said in a statement. "Douglas’ non-apology 'apology' shows that he is not the least bit sorry for his actions…just sorry he got caught."
"Residents of Newton County embrace and celebrate diversity. And these latest revelations show that Douglas has no place as a leader in our community. He must resign immediately," the statement concluded.
Some of Douglas' fellow republicans joined the call for his resignation.
"I'm embarrassed," said Jason Pye, a local Republican activist. "[Douglas] has lost his credibility as a community leader; he's lost his credibility as an elected official. He should resign immediately."
Others were willing to accept Douglas' apology.
Commissioner J.C. Henderson, one of two black commissioners on the BOC, said "nobody's perfect."
"I accept his apology; he's a good person, a Christian person," he said. "We all fall down and make mistakes."
Forrest Sawyer, head of the African American Historical Association in Newton County, wrote in an email to The News that Douglas should remain in his position.
"Senator Douglas is a friend and I have the utmost respect for him," Sawyer wrote. "His compassion for America and its veterans is without question and if I can help him in any way I will."
Bill Perugino, head of the local Republican party, said, "The party has no positon to make comments on actions of elected officials in office or to criticize them and support them."
Victor Fields, president of the National Action Network in Newton County, emphasized that flag burning and other forms of protest that desecrate the flag were upheld by the Supreme Court under the First Amendment.
“We would think that our public officials…should be a little above this foolishness,” he said of Douglas’ comments. “That should not be tolerated.”
When asked whether Douglas’ apology went far enough and whether further disciplinary action should be taken, Fields said, “We need to hear what the other [commissioners] have to say about their colleague.”
Commissioner Nancy Schulz wrote in a statement that "while Commissioner Douglas was responding to an act we all agree is outrageous, there is no excuse for responding in a manner so offensive to so many."
"Such disrespectful comments only further divide us as a community and are an embarrassment to the Board," she wrote. "As elected officials, we must always strive to act with civility and hold ourselves to a higher standard. In this instance. Commissioner Douglas has failed to do so."
Commissioner Lanier Sims also expressed disappointment in Douglas.
"I’ve served my country and I’m very passionate about our nations flag," Sims wrote in a statement. "I was outraged about the picture on Facebook with someone desecrating our flag. With that being said I see disturbing images and videos on Facebook all the time. Just the other day I saw a disturbing KKK video posted on Facebook from Charleston."
"I don’t want to go into the details of the video by no means but I was upset. However as a leader I chose not to make any type of comment. Mr. Douglas’s comments are not a direct reflection of our community. Mr. Douglas not only represents his 20,000 constituents in his district, but he also represents the 100,000 plus citizens of this county as whole."
"Mr. Douglas is also 1 of 6 bosses to 500 plus employees that are black, white, male, and female. I am upset for them. At this time I am not asking for a resignation, but lets keep this in mind, if he was an employee of the county or a major corporate business he would be terminated or asked to step down. I understand Mr. Douglas’s fire for the picture, but he used a poor choice of words to describe his anger. I accept his apology. The lesson to be learned here is that Social Media is much like a loaded gun. Once you pull that trigger or hit enter, there is no bringing it back," Sims wrote.
Commissioner Levie Maddox did not respond to a request for comment.
--Shakeem Holloway contributed to this report