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‘I did not mean it that way’: Fire chief in Lancaster County apologizes for racially insensitive social media post

Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 10:40 PM EDT
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LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - A fire chief in South Carolina apologized after posting a racially insensitive comment to Facebook about serving the Black community, while taking a shot at the “fake news” media.

Francis “Butch” Ghent, a long-time firefighter in Lancaster County wrote impulsively on social media last Thursday.

Words posted to his Facebook account have gotten the fire chief at McDonald Green Fire Department, south of Lancaster, in some hot water.

Ghent, who has been a firefighter in Lancaster County for more than 40 years, posted on his personal account: “Dear Police, stop responding to these black neighborhoods. They will eventually kill each other and the fake news won’t have a story.”

Fire chief in Lancaster County apologizes for racially insensitive social media post
Fire chief in Lancaster County apologizes for racially insensitive social media post(WBTV)

Ghent has apologized to city and county leaders and community members in general for his actions.

“I guess it was racially insensitive. I did not mean it that way,” Ghent said.

Lancaster County officials found out about the post Monday, according to the Rock Hill Herald. The Lancaster County Council condemned the post as offensive, officials told the Herald.

Ghent has since deleted the post.

Ghent told WBTV he was trying to defend the police from the national news media.

Ghent on Tuesday afternoon issued a written apology to Lancaster County fire service and county officials, the Herald reported. The apology stated that Ghent was trying to jab the news media after a fatal police shooting in Ohio.

“I sincerely apologize to the people of Lancaster,” Ghent said.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis confirmed the apology came from Ghent and released the apology in full to The Herald.

According to the Herald, in the apology, Ghent asks the Black community of Lancaster County to forgive his mistake and knows he offended Black people with the post.

Here is the full apology statement from Ghent posted in the Herald:

“I would like to apologize to the black community of Lancaster and through out the country,” the statement said. “The post I made on Facebook was not meant to be an attack you but rather a jab at the news media.”

The apology further stated: “My father instilled in me that the police were to be respected and honored not matter what. The media has done everything they can to demonize them to get a story and ratings. After the police shot and killed the teenage girl trying to kill another girl the media said he went to far. But if he had let her kill the other girl then they would have said he should have done more. The police can’t win in these violent confrontations. I lost it and made that post. The wording was very inappropriate but anger blinded my judgment.

“I would also like to apologize to my family, fire department, Lancaster County Fire Service and the leaders of Lancaster County. I hope that my actions haven’t put you in harms way. I have served the residents of Lancaster County for over 40 years. I don’t see color in the residents that I serve. I help whomever calls with dignity and respect. I have many black friends and neighbors that I more than likely have offended. I am truly sorry.

“I made a mistake and am very sorry for it. I again ask for your forgiveness.”

If hindsight is 20/20, Ghent said he now sees what he did with a better sense of clarity.

This came days after a 15-year-old Black girl was shot and killed by law enforcement officers in Columbus, Ohio. Then, last week, 42-year-old Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man, was fatally shot in Elizabeth City, N.C.

About two weeks earlier, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb.

“I don’t want to stir up unrest in our community. That’s not what I want to do,” Ghent said. “I want us to be together, I want us to heal.”

Ghent said he was lashing out in frustration at the national news media and the way he feels cable news portrays the police.

“Now, everybody’s trying to rip them apart, and trying to make sure they disband them and, put their lives in jeopardy,” Ghent said.

WBTV spoke to several Lancaster County residents who were shocked by the fire chief’s message.

“I’m speechless because it’s becoming the norm now,” Lancaster resident Obryant Gladden said. “You know for things to be said. Something needs to be done.”

Others didn’t buy the apology.

“How are you going to mean that, something like that? That’s crazy, he meant every last word,” Lancaster County resident Dajah Douglas said. “Because that wouldn’t even come to this thought process like that.”

Ghent said he also wrote a letter of apology to the city council and is planning a meeting with leaders in the Black community soon.

“I love my community and I love my people and I would do anything for any of them,” Ghent said. “And I didn’t mean for this to hurt them. I didn’t.”

Ghent told WBTV he has sworn off social media.

The Lancaster County Council issued this statement to the Rock Hill Herald:

“On Monday April 26th, Lancaster County became aware of an offensive social media post by a volunteer firefighter serving an independent fire department. Lancaster County Council and Lancaster County strongly condemn the social media post as its contents are contrary to the values and beliefs of Lancaster County government. The County has received questions about potential disciplinary or personnel action.

“Volunteer firefighters in Lancaster County are not employees or volunteers of Lancaster County but instead are members of their independent volunteer fire departments. Accordingly, the County cannot take any disciplinary action. However, Lancaster County and County Council take this matter very seriously and urge the fire department to address the matter.”

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