Oakley Facebook comment draws fire

Facebook is a wonderful tool for people to use, but like any tool, it should be used with great care.

The social media site is useful for helping people keep in contact with friends scattered across the globe whom they haven’t spoken to for years. It allows family to reconnect and allows the sharing of photos, ideas and news with others within one’s peer group.

However, it also instantly shows, without context, intent or clarity, the thoughts and ideas a person clacks out on their smartphone or computer keyboard and exposes those posts to instant scrutiny.

Such is the case involving Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who learned a very hard lesson this past week about the lack of anonymity Facebook affords.

On Monday, Nov. 21, Oakley shared a post from the San Antonio Police Department about the arrest of an African-American man, Otis Tyrone McKane, accused of killing San Antonio police Det. Benjamin Marconi on his personal Facebook account.

Oakley then posted a comment on his shared post that he thought it was “time for a tree and a rope … .” That comment, because it was placed on a shared public post, was publicly visible while it was on Oakley’s Facebook page.
Oakley’s comment drew condemnation from a number of individuals on Facebook, who thought the elected official had overstepped his bounds by commenting so harshly in a public manner.

Others questioned whether there was some racial overtone to Oakley’s comment, given a very disturbing history in the South, and particularly in Texas, of lynchings involving minorities.

In addition to deleting his post Wednesday, Nov. 23, Oakley apologized for the comment, calling it “off the cuff” and “indeed curt and harsh.”

“My off the cuff comment on Facebook was indeed curt and harsh. It is for that reason that I deleted it soon after posting and apologize for not being more thoughtful and comprehensive in my expression,” Oakley said in a written statement. “What I should have posted, if anything, is a comment that more clearly reflects my opinion on the cowardly crime of the senseless murder of a law enforcement officer. My view of the ‘suspect,’ whom has admitted to the murder, is the same regardless of ethnicity or gender. My view would have been the same, had there not been a mug shot or description of the suspect.

“To be clear, I advocate due process. I also support the death penalty in cases where the ultimate crime has been committed and there is clear and complete evidence and where all steps of the judicial process have been respected. I would also point out that I am an administrative judge, and do not preside over criminal court.”

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which Oakley serves as vice president of the board of directors, issued a statement that same day that the PEC “does not condone any type of offensive language. Comments such as these are not a reflection of our cooperative values. We proudly welcome and serve all members.”

The PEC board is holding a special called meeting Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 11:30 a.m. at its headquarters in Johnson City to address its social media policy, as well as communications and conduct of a director, and to discuss the bylaws regarding “director removal and discipline.”

It was not clear whether this was directly in response to Oakley’s Facebook post and the surrounding controversy.

Oakley stated his comment “was my own and not representative of Burnet County or the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. As soon as I saw my comment was being misinterpreted, I pulled it down and issued a statement clarifying my post, along with an apology.”

Having worked with Oakley as the “newspapers of record” for Burnet County, the staff of The Highlander and the Burnet Bulletin have gotten to know the individual, not just the public official.

We do not believe that Oakley spoke in a manner that was intended to be racially insensitive or demeaning when he posted his comment, but was trying to express his frustration and anger at what is the senseless slaughter of a law enforcement officer who was simply carrying out his duties to protect and serve when he was brutally killed.

Oakley has long been a supporter of those wearing the badge, serving on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

That being said, we do not condone or agree with the message posted by the county judge and do not find it appropriate for a county official, especially one who serves on the

judiciary, to be commenting publicly on social media about a criminal proceeding, even if the individual in question is simply an administrative official who does not preside over criminal trials.

It is worth noting that social media policies are becoming necessary standard operating procedure for more and more organizations, businesses and governmental entities.

But in small, tight-knit communities, it is sometimes difficult for those in positions of responsibility to separate the official from the individual when tragic events occur.

When any law enforcement officer is brutally slain, we instantly consider the many friends and neighbors in the local law enforcement community we see every day. They are our friends, our family. The human instinct is to protect those we love. That goes for law enforcement officers in Burnet County, San Antonio or New York City.

Our parents always taught us to be careful what we say and do, especially in public, because it could “come back to bite us.”

The same caution applies to our reactions to comments. We all make mistakes, so we should learn from them, move on and continue the important business of serving our community.

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