Resident promises protests if North Attleboro selectman doesn’t resign

Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Feb. 24, 2017.

NORTH ATTLEBORO — A local woman is calling for Selectman Paul Belham’s resignation, and says she won’t stop until he sits at the table for the last time.

Laurie Lawes said she hoped that when she organized a protest last march against then-RTM member Paul Couturier’s bigoted Facebook posts against Muslims and African Americans, the town had learned its lesson on inclusivity.

Last week, she was disappointed to learn it had not.

Similar Facebook posts found on Belham’s personal page featured anti-Muslim posts and memes mocking the way Mexicans might speak English. Days before, former selectman candidate James Lang came under fire after Islamophobic posts on his Facebook page were exposed.

Both men blame the offensive posts on the work of social media hackers, although some of them dated to 2014.

Lang was eliminated from the selectman race days later in the preliminary town election. Now, Lawes wants to see Belham removed from the board.

“I’m feeling sad that I’m here again, but I feel like it needs to be said,” Lawes told selectmen Thursday. “It’s very disheartening that one of our elected officials again pointed out anti-Muslim rhetoric and shared racist information that targets specific members of our community. I guess they’re supposed to be funny posts. I don’t find them funny.”

Lawes went further to condemn the board for its lack of action since Couturier’s comments came to light last March, when almost 40 demonstrators protested outside a special town meeting, challenging elected officials to be more inclusive and accepting.

She said she was frustrated to learn the board had not adopted a social media policy, and that behavior like Belham’s and Couturier’s were not referenced in either body’s code of conduct.

But her biggest point of upset with selectmen was the apathy they had demonstrated. Many selectmen did not initially denounce Couturier or his comments.

“Not one of you stood with us last March,” she charged.

In light of the latest incidents, selectmen Chairman Patrick Reynolds has arranged a meeting with the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon and asked other town officials to join him in learning more about the Muslim faith.

But Lawes said the act felt like another ploy to mollify voters before the April 4 town election.

“Patrick, with the whole Islamic thing you have set up — I wish I could believe it,” she said. “It would mean more if you had stood with us.

“This is my home. I have a right to expect more from my elected officials,” she said. “Mr. Belham, respectfully you have given a great deal to our community. But I respectfully ask you to resign.”

Belham did not respond to Lawes during the meeting, and declined to comment afterward.

But last March, Couturier resigned at the advice of Belham — and Lawes said Belham should now do the same.

If he doesn’t, Lawes said she is ready to put up a fight.

“If he’s not going to resign, then I’m going to organize a protest at every meeting,” she said after the meeting. “We’ll be right out front of Town Hall every week.”

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