TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials say COVID-19 isn’t the only illness confronting the public.
“... Another more discriminate, and persistent disease poses a real threat: incomprehensible racism,‘' stated the Thursday evening post on the county government’s Twitter account.
The tweet came after Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. received three anonymous, racially epithet-filled emails throughout the day. All three directed the N-word toward Miller, who is black. Two of the emails protested the countywide mandate to wear facial coverings to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. A third message said the National Guard should be used to control the black community.
Miller spoke of the emails during a special commission meeting Thursday morning and again in the afternoon at the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group — the board, also chaired by Miller, that enacted the face-covering requirement. Miller told his colleagues on both panels he planned to stay on the high road.
“It hurts. It really does. It cuts deep,‘' he told the Emergency Policy Group. “Especially, when you’re trying to do what’s best for the people of this county. I know a lot of people don’t agree with my decision and my votes, that’s to be expected.
“But to threaten and to say the words that they say is just totally uncalled for, totally uncalled for. But, regardless of what they call me, what they say, I’m going to work on their behalf to protect them.‘'
Two of the emails sent Thursday morning were copied to all seven county commissioners. A third sent in the afternoon only went to Miller.
“Shortage of breath-masks, so we can’t buy GROCERIES, so we can’t EAT. You are *STUPID* beyond belief!!!!‘' one email stated. Its author was identified as “the White Majority.‘'
Another email from a person identified as “KKK'' told Miller to “resign, you’re far too dumb to deal with corona virus.‘'
The county’s web-based email system allows the public to contact commissioners without identifying themselves, and it doesn’t allow the county to trace the origination of the correspondence.
Other commissioners rebuked the comments during the Emergency Policy Group session.
“The messages are from individuals, still in our midst, who hold hate in their hearts. Their words, sent anonymously, show ignorance, cowardice and are reprehensible. These vile words are alarming and I stand with you (Miller) and respect your unwavering leadership during these most difficult times and I’m so sorry this has happened,‘' said Commissioner Kimberly Overman.
“When I read that email I literally broke down in tears,‘' said Commissioner Sandy Murman. “...I know a lot of people aren’t happy (about the mask mandate), but the viciousness is uncalled for.‘'
Miller forwarded Thursday’s emails to county administrators and to Sheriff Chad Chronister. The county tweeted its support for MIller that evening. The Sheriff’s Office said Friday it is looking into the matter.
“While there does not appear to be a specific threat made, if the emails meet the statutory requirements of a hate crime, we will investigate further,‘' the Sheriff’s Office said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
On Friday, Miller told the Times he had received similar hate mail multiple times in his public service career, including in April during the public debate over a curfew.
“People ask me what I’m going to do and I say I’m going to keep doing my job,‘' Miller said Friday. “Unfortunately, these are the circumstances our country is in right now. There is so much hatred and division.‘'