To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, many communities in the county annually commemorate the civil rights activist’s dream of peaceful coexistence, but last year, a Facebook group in Upland took a more militant approach, through social media, to memorialize Dr. King’s legacy by waging a politically-charged internet-war against Upland Council President Christine Peterson and Upland Mayor Michael Ciach.
A Facebook page titled, “The New Upland,” with a profile picture of Dr. King, lambasted Upland Borough Council for its Feb. 3, 2016 decision to demolish two properties neighboring the Sunnyside House on Upland Ave. One of the homes is where Dr. King resided during his three–year academic stay at the Crozer Theological Seminary.
“The New Upland’s” maintains anonymity and did not respond to The Spirit’s messages, but the nearly one-year old, publicly viewable Facebook page reveals posts of the moderator accusing Peterson of underhandedly approving the house’s demolition without the public’s opinion nor input from the Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS), deviating from the public notices for scheduled hearings from both the public and DCHS, and also eliminating Dr, King’s historic presence from the borough.
“Can you explain to the city and nation why Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t considered historical by the New Upland Council President and (its) Mayor????” a Feb. 5, 2016 post reads, “….I have no idea how two people in politics care so little about the people in their community and the history of such a great leader…”
The moderator shared the Feb. 5, 2016 post, calling on the DCHS to “please look into this.”
Four days later, in a post, the Facebook page again accused Council of disregarding Dr. King’s significance while also encouraging residents to attend the February Council meeting to protest the action and grill the politicians.
Minutes from that meeting, The Spirit found, reveal that only two residents spoke and none of their concerns involved the Sunnyside House or the two other structures, including Dr. King’s former-living quarters.
The post, however, garnered Ciach’s attention. He engaged in keyboard-combat to defend the borough, charging the moderator with posting “fictitious and inflammatory” information.
“I am (and we are in Upland) not only interested about the history of our borough, but recognize and admire the plight of Martin Luther King, Jr.,… (Upland Borough Council) proudly (acknowledges) his history that has touched Upland,” Ciach fired off in a comment below the moderator’s post, dismissing the “The New Upland’s” claims of his and Council’s purposeful erasure of Dr. King’s legacy from the borough.
Ciach also accused the moderator of using Dr. King’s name to cloak a “political agenda.”
Exchanges between Ciach and the page’s moderator continued in an additional post days later, but both parties ceased fire for 11 days, until “The New Upland,” in an attempt to be cryptic, posted, “To the Mayor of Upland Mike Ciach (…)We know what you did!”
“Oh, so if this page isn’t a political attack page using the good name of MLK and his civil rights movement as a shield, then why does this post say nothing about him, his history or legacy? Did I expose you for the fraud and coward that you are?,” Ciach quipped in a response to the post.
Ripples of previous posts erupted into a tidal wave when “The New Upland,” in a Feb. 23, 2016 post, incorrectly said that Peterson “signed the papers to tear down the Sunnyside House.” The moderator tried drawing parallels to Peterson’s supposedly surreptitiously signing “the papers” approving demolition of the houses to her arrest, a day before, by then-Upland Police Chief Nelson Ocasio for reportedly forging his signature on another police officer’s time card and Ocasio’s eventual suspension.
“…For what?” questioned the moderator about Ocasio’s suspension, before a series of rhetorical questions. “Arresting the council president for committing a crime? I thought that was what the police should do?…What was he suspended for being a police officer, being Hispanic, being a man, doing his job or all of the above?”
The anonymous moderator called Peterson’s actions and arrest “IRONIC!” and further attacked the mayor and Council for alleged racial bias for suspending “the Hispanic Police Chief.”
And as a retort to Ciach referring to the moderator as a “fraud” and a “coward” in a earlier post, “The New Upland” alluded to the mayor being cowardly for not supporting the police department, particularly Ocasio.
“At this time in what is going on in society, a town and a department needs a mayor that not only stands behind them but stands next to them,” the “The New Upland” posted. “You instead suspend him! What an insult to the men and women in blue that serve and protect you on a daily basis!”