Community and Campus React to Student’s Letter

Jamie Littlefield

GCC student Paul Carney can’t seem to shake off the controversy he began with a letter to the Glendale News-Press in January — even here on campus.

When Carney, 33, saw the American flag flying half-staff over city hall in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, he was upset to say the least. “I don’t think it was right,” he said.

Carney claims to have a deep respect for the flag and says he doesn’t believe it should be lowered in commemoration of events that happen on foreign soil, and which do not directly involve the United States. “If we’re going to lower our flag to honor what happened 86 years ago in Turkey, how come Armenia doesn’t lower their flag at half staff for Memorial Day, in memory of World War I and II?” he asked.

Soon after seeing the lowered flag, Carney penned a letter to the local newspaper. Carney is no stranger to expressing his opinion to newspapers. He says that he has been writing letters since he was 12.
In his letter, Carney expressed his discontent for the decision to lower the flag and made some racially derogative comments toward Armenians. “…quit coming to America and trying to change things here,” he wrote. He said that the “…Armenian Genocide issue is getting old real fast,” and that the lowering of the flag made him sick to his stomach. “…the Armenian community thinks it owns Glendale,” said Carney.

An outraged community responded to Carney’s remarks by flooding the News-Press mailbox with letters. Discussions were started and a community forum was created to deal with the controversy. Some blame Carney for starting the uproar. “I am appalled to find out that an individual can be so ignorant and insensitive,” wrote one reader. “Armenian Americans are just as patriotic as you or anyone else,” said another.

Some believe that the News-Press should never have printed the letter. “There should be a limit to what the News-Press will publish,” wrote one reader.

“We run just about every letter we receive,” said John Francis, the paper’s editor. “It really is a forum for the community.” Francis said that they would generally omit the racially derogative contents of the letter. “Some of the stuff that was in his letter we would typically take out. This one slipped through the cracks.”

But the editor defended his choice: “This stuff needs to be out in the open.”

As responses from the community poured in, Carney decided it was time to write another letter. In this letter, Carney apologized for the derogative comments he had previously made. “They have a right to be upset to a certain extent,” he later said.

Although Carney continues to stand steadfast in his position against lowering the American flag, he admits that the racially derogative comments were inappropriate. “I don’t have any ill feelings towards anybody,” he said. “None.”

Students at Glendale Community College seem to have mixed feelings toward Carney, from sympathy and understanding to anger and hatred. “I don’t think it was inappropriate,” said Patricia Willenborg, one GCC student. “It was a community forum; he’s part of the community.”

Yet Willenborg believes that Carney must now be responsible for the results of his letter. “If you’re going to voice that type of opinion, you have to be prepared for the consequences.”

“He’s an idiot,” said Leo Jordan, an Armenian student at GCC. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Jordan said that the original letter revealed Carney’s real feelings on the subject. “The apology doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I don’t really care if he apologized or not.”

Carney has not received much tolerance from some on campus. One student even spit on him. “After I publicly said I was sorry and someone spit on me … Now it’s personal,” he said.

Carney continues his daily tasks, still standing as a target of anger from many in the school and community because of the few words he wrote in January. “What is forgiveness?” he asked. “I don’t know anymore.”