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MVFD Mechanic Says Facebook Post About Islam Was Misunderstanding and Apologizes

He feels he was treated 'unfair and painted as a crazy racist' by Black Westchester

Black Westchester first reported that a mechanic of the Mount Vernon Fire Department said, ‘Muslims should be banned from public office and positions of power,’ in a Facebook rant last week. Tuesday morning Robert Versace reached out to Black Westchester to express his disapproval of the article and to share his side of the story.

In a statement emailed to Black Westchester, Versace says he has ‘approximately 70 plus friends on FB and 22 of them are black, Spanish, Asian’ and that he’ would never and have never consciously said or do anything to make them feel threatened or upset.’ He feels he was treated ‘unfair and painted as a crazy racist [by Black Westchester], which couldn’t be further from reality.’

So in the interest in fairness, we are sharing his side of the story today about the post that calls Islam a ‘socio-political cult,’ because Versace says those are not his words. It’s was a snippet from ‘Swedish writer and right-wing crackpot,’ Geert Wilders; he says.  Here is Mr. Versace’s statement in its entirety.

Dear sir, my name is Robert Versace I am the mechanic for the MVFD. The article you wrote about me (without hearing my version) was so unfair and painted me as a crazy racist, which couldn’t be further from reality. I have approx.70 plus friends on FB and 22 of them are black, Spanish, Asian,.. I would never and have never consciously said or do anything to make them feel threatened or upset. 
In the interest of fairness please let me break it down as to the post about Islam. While looking on Facebook a post appears saying “INTERESTING READ ” PLEASE READ AND SHARE. I STARTED TO LOOK AT THE PAGE BUT it was long and rambling and the words were above my intellect, so I only glanced at the page all of maybe 6 seconds and I stopped. It wasn’t INTERESTING so I moved on. I didn’t hit like, or comment. There was no share icon so I asked my wife..she said copy paste and away it went. I didn’t give it a second thought till maybe 10, 15 minutes later my friend Kevin Holt called me Upset saying ” why did you write that stupid article ” I told him I didn’t write it it was a repost and I said where it came from. I replied oops.. I will delete it immediately again I apologize profusely. He excepted my explanation and apology and departed in peace, I thought. 
Someone took a screenshot and it looks like they changed the wording to look offensive  (sir..as a journalist..who starts a paragraph with “Bear in mind “That was taken out of context. When you delete on FB it is gone but I did some detective work and Googled the phrase ” Islam is not a religion ” and I found that the author is a Swedish writer and right-wing crackpot named Greet Wilders he is the author. If you want to see for yourself. Again, I’ve worked for the FD for 41-years unblemished record and I treated every man with respect. Also..what little of the article I looked said nothing about hating black people.  I was able to get hold of Lohud and have them rewrite the story and apologized for not fact-checking.  People make dumb mistakes and that’s what happened. I couldn’t work with any diversity of coworkers for 41 years and hide being a bigot or racist.

Facebook has algorithms that share with you, posts that are aligned with your interests according to what you share, like, and post. According to Facebook, Posts that you see first are influenced by your connections and activity on Facebook. The number of comments, likes, and reactions a post receives and what kind of story it is (example: photo, video, status update) can also make it more likely to appear higher up in your News Feed. So a post like the one Versace says he read and shared would not easily show up high in my newsfeed, for me to see, for example.

Also a quick note the individual who Versace said is author or what he posted correct spelling is Geert Wilders and he is Dutch not Swedish.

I reached out to Kevin Holt, president of the Mount Vernon Professional Firefighters Union since he was mentioned in the email statement we received as well as the Lohud story. Mr. Holt informed Black Westchester that Mr. Versace did at no time apologize to him for the posts as he says in his statement, but merely explained he did not write the post, he simply copies and re-pasted it. Mr. Holt expressed his disapproval of the post and the fact his name was being used in Versace’s attempt publicly clear his named after the backlash to the post by the media and co-workers. Holt also shares, “To post this on the holiest month for Muslims is offensive, but despite what month, posting this in any month would be greatly unacceptable.”

There should be no room for bigoted statements made by city workers in a minority-majority city like Mount Vernon, mistakenly or deliberately. Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard assured Black Westchester this will not take this lightly and shared her disappointment with the post.

“We are disappointed that this has happened especially considering that this is the sacred season of Ramadan,” Mayor Patterson-Howard share with BW.

Union President Holt also shared with BW that there is a social media policy that has put in place after Lieutenant Omar Lanier appeared to express support to the gunman in Dallas who killed five police officers in 2016. The L.t was suspended for a message he posted on Instagram after the ambush. Shortly after, a social media policy was put in place and every employee of Mount Vernon was given a copy to read and sign according to Holt. This is a violation of that policy even if Versace was not the original author and merely copied and pasted the statement or article on Facebook.

One has to ask, why would Versace apologize to Holt and not his co-workers as a whole especially his Muslim co-workers personally, who were offended? Why didn’t Versace post an apology on Facebook where he re-posted to offensive bigoted rant, explaining it was simply a misunderstanding or a dumb mistake as he put it, if he was sincere?

Also on the interest of Fact-Checking which he accuses us of not doing, Versace says he was “able to get hold of Lohud and have them rewrite the story and apologized for not fact-checking.” in the Lohud article that shares his statement about ‘this being a misunderstanding’ at no time do they apologize for not fact-checking, you can read the article for yourself.

In fairness we reached back out to Mr. Versace via email to ask these questions and are awaiting a response. We share his statement in its entirety but to be honest, it leaves this writer scratching his head about it sincerity, and with more questions than answers, your thoughts?

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About AJ Woodson (2278 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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