By now, most workers know that it's easy to get fired for mouthing off on Facebook or Twitter. So when Mark Kessler, a police chief in central Pennsylvania, posted YouTube video rants in which he shoots at images of Democratic party leaders and curses at them as "traitors" and "libtards," you might think that he'd be in for stern discipline.
So far, his comments have provoked intense controversy and debate, with some residents expressing support and others disgust, but Kessler -- also the sole police officer for the town of 800 residents-- has not been reprimanded by his superiors. In fact, his boss, Gilberton Borough Mayor Mary Lou Hannon has released a statement of support.
"Each member of council, each employee and each citizen is not only entitled to their own political opinions, but also the right to express them," Hannon said in a statement, as was reported by Lehigh Valley's Morning Call newspaper. She also noted that Hannon made the videos on his own time. "We will not take action to quash free speech, whether or not each member of council or any member of council agrees with it." However, she did tell Allentown TV station WFMZ that she found the language personally "offensive."
His videos, which he says he recorded on private property, show Kessler doing the following:
1. Calling Secretary of State John Kerry a "piece of s**t traitor" for signing a United Nations treaty on arms regulation. He also called the U.N. a bunch of "c*********s" before shooting his firearm.
2. Releasing an "apology" video in which he showed himself unapologetic. "If you didn't get enough the first time, go f**k yourself," he said in the video. He then repeated the profanity eight more times while shooting his firearms again.
In speaking to TV station Fox43 of York, Pa., Kessler was defiant and said that he was simply taking advantage of his First and Second amendment rights. "I don't have no apologies to make. I expressed myself freely," he said. He also added that he's received thousands of emails expressing support. The videos have been viewed around 50,000 to 160,000 times, respectively. Comments on the YouTube pages have been disabled.
And on Twitter, Kessler has been both championed and criticized. Twitter user @ColinFlaherty tweeted that he "like[s] the way this dude rolls." A local resident, Jeff McCarthy, was upset. "When you're a cop and part of the school board, you can't go off like that," McCarthy told the Morning Call. And in writing on the Facebook page of the York TV station, Joanne Zimmerman wrote, "his language and approach leave a lot to be desired as a public official."
Others have also questioned Kessler's actions. Tweeter @CourtneyLynn26 wrote, "Kessler is a perfect example of what is wrong with America and our gun culture."
Kessler launched his YouTube channel in April. But he's been raising his public profile and generating controversy since the year began. He's begun hosting an online talk show called "The Chief Kessler Show," which is broadcast via Spreaker.com, an online broadcasting forum. His segments usually last an hour and are posted twice a week to the website. He's made public comments on topics such as the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, referring to the event was a "tragedy" while adding that the problem was the shooter and not the gun. And he's also formed a volunteer group called the Constitutional Security Force which supports the use of arms to stand against "tyranny."
Mayor Hannon has said that the borough of Gilberton will discuss the matter at next week's town council meeting. Local reports have not mentioned how concerned citizens will be able to take part in the meeting, or if Kessler's employment will be put to a vote. But according to a central Pennsylvania news site, the Hazelton Standard Speaker, the meeting was postponed from its originally schedule date of Thursday after the town received "threatening calls."
Workers in the private sector under fire for their social media presence generally have had little success citing their First Amendment rights, as AOL Jobs has reported. The strategy is problematic because the amendment specifically protects free speech against government limits, not ones imposed by private bodies such as workplaces. But government workers such as Kessler can potentially have greater leeway in their use of social media, according to New Jersey-based employment lawyer Jonathan Cohen, especially if they argue that they're "speaking out about conditions that affect more than just [their own] job."
What do you think? Should Kessler be allowed to stay on in his job? Share your comments below.
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