EDITORIAL: Sudhan Thomas’ chilling attempt to silence free speech should frighten everyone
Regardless of what side you’re supporting in this Jersey City Board of Education election, Sudhan Thomas’ chilling attempt to silence my free speech should be alarming to everyone.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” – United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Apparently Education Matters’ candidate Sudhan Thomas doesn’t believe in the above declaration, or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, otherwise one would have to wonder why his lawyer sent me a cease-and-desist letter following questions I sent to Thomas’ press person regarding a story I’m researching.
In his letter, attorney Paul Appel, representing Thomas, stated that I was “writing as a private citizen while wearing the false and misleading mantle of a journalist.” He continued on to cite my editorial endorsing Mussab Ali + Jersey City United, specifically my statement that “I can’t sit back and not do everything in my power to stop the Education Matters slate of Sudhan Thomas, Angel Valentin, and Gina Verdibello.”
I find it ironic that within the editorial I compared the Education Matters slate to Donald Trump, and then, like Trump, Thomas had his lawyer send me a cease-and-desist letter. I guess they don’t understand what it means to be a candidate for office and face scrutiny, or they’re really scared of what facts I might expose.
If what I wrote is tough, folks should read the scathing editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton from one of my favorite publications – The Atlantic. Somehow, after that endorsement, The Atlantic is still publishing material about Donald Trump.
Yes, I can’t sit back, just like hundreds of journalists across America haven’t been able to sit back and not do everything in their power to stop Donald Trump (or Hillary Clinton). Most of the journalists are separated between commentary and reporting, but that line has been blurred more than ever in 2016, and I’ve been quite open about producing both political commentary (categorized as policy and politics) and news reports (categorized as news) on this website since its inception.
That said, even if I’m not a journalist, or a reporter, or a blogger, I’m still an American citizen with constitutional rights. Those constitutional rights include free speech, which includes political speech, which is protected for many reasons – one of which is to challenge politicians.
What I found strange is that I was compared to FBI Director James Comey in the cease-and-desist letter, stating that I was “acting with the intent of deliberately interfering with an election.” While the Comey reference was extremely flattering, seriously, he’s one of the nation’s top law enforcement officials, and I’m, according to Appel, a private citizen.
Aren’t private citizens allowed to interfere with an election by voicing their opinion? To quote Jay-Z, I thought this was America people.
Anyhow, I reached out to Thomas’ press person regarding a story I’m working on, and I’ve been more than open to hear their side of the story. I’m even willing to sit down with Thomas for an on-camera interview. Every news report I’ve ever published has sought comment from relevant representatives to make sure the story is accurate and a reflection of the facts.
Now, to keep it real, if my speech is silenced, I can only wonder what would happen to my private citizen friend Monique Andrews – who really lets it rip on social media and public meetings about politicians and public officials she despises for ideological reasons.
Jersey City United candidate Matthew Schapiro has been absolutely maligned on social media by private citizens supporting Education Matters, including being labeled a slumlord (among the more polite comments). To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t filed any cease-and-desist letters for those personal attacks – I can only guess he understands the value of free speech in the political arena.
Now, what wasn’t cited in the letter was the first part of the sentence I referenced, where I stated, “at this point, after seeing what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know.”
Well, I’ll tell you some things I saw from the start:
I saw Thomas refer to a potential black male opponent, Dominique Lee, the only black candidate that entered the race at any time to my knowledge, as having “predatory sights on the Jersey City school system.” That’s not how candidates running for the Jersey City Board of Education should be speaking, especially when black men have been marginalized in Jersey City and Hudson County politics.
That’s not me saying black men in politics are above critical coverage and commentary, just ask Jersey City NAACP Pres. Bill Braker, Muhammad Akil, and Ryan Strother if they think that’s what I’m saying. What’s unacceptable to me is when people, especially candidates for board of education, start delegitimizing and demonizing their opponents – especially black candidates – by insinuating that they’re predators.
Also, channeling my inner LGBT advocate, somewhere there’s a boy in Jersey City dealing with gender identity and sexuality issues that daydreams about being a cheerleader. Sadly, that boy likely knows the bullying and harassment they will face might lead them to suicide if they’re true to who they really are.
At one point they may search for a politician that’s advertised as LGBT-friendly, but then find a quote from Thomas attacking a male politician by describing them in a gender non-conforming role – specifically a “pop-pom waving cheerleader troll.” Would any Jersey City teacher in their right mind, in this day and age, not recognize that as anything other than gender-based bullying if their students used the same language?
Also, there was that time he said the problem with the JCBOE was competing ideologies, and accused the other side, without a shred of evidence, of having an agenda of defunding and “voucherizing” the district.
From that point on I’ve seen things, been tipped to things, and researched things that deserve to be scrutinized.
As for the letter, trust me, if I wasn’t scared to essentially trap myself in a parking lot across the street from a bar full of cops that hate my guts, I’m not worried about Sudhan Thomas and his lawyer. I do this because I actually give a s*** about Jersey City, and what hurts is when I see these random candidates for public office get propped-up by a corrupt political machine into elected office only to be nothing more than a crony.
That’s why it would be criminal of me to not endorse Mussab Ali, even though I know Jersey City United is the only group with enough resources behind them to take on the corrupt machine I’ve fought everyday since I entered into politics.
Finally, I really hope the JCEA can talk some sense into the candidate they’re endorsing. Trust me when I say I’ve done a lot for people in various Jersey City communities, the majority of which hasn’t been publicized. Then add in the thousands of people that know about my work, and I’m sure a lot of people will stand with me if Thomas moves forward with a lawsuit seeking to silence my voice.
Below is the first part of the cease-and-desist letter I received: