With death threats being leveled against two Saugus Union School District board members, some might wonder how society got to this point. How does somebody escalate his or her behavior from simply expressing outrage at a meeting to making insulting comments online to threatening a person’s life?
According to one psychologist, it’s an extension of the world today.
“There’s an awful lot of bigotry out there, as you know, and it is now socially acceptable to say it,” Tarzana-based marriage and family therapist Judi Lirman said. “Somebody is very invested in what they think is wrong, and it comes from something that is probably very specifically out of their own history. I would think it would be ‘I’m not getting through to you. You’re not doing what I want. You’re not paying enough attention, so if I amp up my thing, you may do what I want you to do.’”
David Barlavi has received death threats because of his politics. In a salute to the Black Lives Matter movement, he regularly stands with his fist raised while the national anthem plays. Or his fist is raised and his other hand is over his heart while he recites the Pledge of Allegiance. He has been photographed doing this, and many people don’t like it. Some have resorted to anti-Semitic comments; others took it further, and the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station is investigating at least 10 comments.
Barlavi declined comment, but he left a note on Facebook that has since been taken down: “In light of recent events, I’d like to reiterate my belief that Donald Trump is the greatest president of all time. Thank you.”
Board President Julie Olsen has been threatened with violence because her comments about adhering to meeting rules got interpreted to mean she was attempting to limit public comment.
Lirman is not surprised that the threats happened. She said it resembles a mob mentality.
“You normally think of a mob as a group that comes together in one location and does something together. This obviously isn’t a mob in that sense, but it certainly is in terms of the kinds of threats,” she said. “It’s kind of like the mean kids ganging up on somebody.”
Of course, what has happened to Barlavi and Olsen is far from isolated. Hart Union School District board member Joe Messina has received death threats. Farther from home, former One Direction band member Zayn Malik received death threats in 2014 after posting “#FreePalestine” on Twitter. And in 2015, a reality show winner named Rebecca Francis was threatened after comedian Ricky Gervais posted a five-year-old photo of Francis laying next to a dying giraffe she had slain.
Reuters ran an article in 2014 blaming the internet for making death threats easier. It listed several: against the Detroit police chief, a writer, an entrepreneur, an actress, a gun dealer, two pro football players, a pro soccer player and a pro baseball player.
“Advanced technology has removed most of the work and hazard from sending cowardly messages to people to frighten them,” the article said. “Death threats — internet or otherwise — aren’t funny.”
Letter from Saugus Union School District Superintendent on February 8, 2019:
Good evening Saugus School District Community,
In the Santa Clarita Valley Signal today there was an article regarding death threats that have been made against David Barlavi, one of the Saugus Union School District Board Members. We recently learned that similar threats have been made to Board President, Julie Olsen. These threats are part of a string of social media comments related to videos posted on YouTube. The videos are a continuation of the protests made at the Board Meeting on February 5, 2019.
The Saugus Union School District supports people’s right to civilly state their opinions, and voice their concerns. The District, however, does not support threats of any kind, or the hatred expressed in the social media comments posted to YouTube, or any other social media venue. It is important that we maintain civil dialogue, even when there is disagreement.
We continue to provide opportunities for our community to participate in the public comment portion of each Board meeting. The SUSD Board policies (BB 9323) indicate that speakers at Board meetings are limited to 3 minutes, and limits the comments on a single topic to 20 minutes unless authorized unanimously by the Board to extend the time.
Further this is supported by Government Code 54954.3 which states, “The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.”
The safety and security of all students, staff, administrators, and Board members, remain our highest priority. We are working with local law enforcement to ensure that these threats are investigated, and that safeguards are in place. We will continue to implement all current safety measures, including the use of our visitor protocol, and all procedures that ensure that we maintain a culture of respect and safety.
If you are aware of a threat to an SUSD family member (student, staff, or Board Member), report it to law enforcement immediately. Please know that our campuses are safe, and we will continue providing that environment despite the current concerns.