By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A city employee is no longer working for the city following a controversial comment made on social media about a Muslim model.
“Bill Larion no longer works for the city of Dearborn,” a statement from the city read. “Per protocol, the city will not be commenting further on internal personnel matters.”
Larion, who worked as a surveyor in the Engineering Department, apologized for the comment with a written apology during a meeting May 7 with Dearborn police.
“I want to do better for my community and family,” Larion wrote. “I hurt not only my family, but my co-workers and my community and people I didn’t even know. I don’t want to be like this, to be seen as someone who makes derogatory and disrespectful comments. I instantly regretted and deleted the comment and my Facebook account.”
Larion’s comment was in reaction to a WXYZ Channel 7 news story about Muslim model Halima Aden appearing in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition wearing a hijab and burkini.
“Cute picture should be on the cover of camels are us,” it read.
The comment has been deleted.
At first Larion, 58, said his account had been hacked and denied writing the comment.
“He said he panicked and thought he would cover himself up,” attorney Ed Zelenak told the Detroit News. “He knew already that he was wrong.”
On May 6, Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. condemned the comment, attributed to a part-time city employee, and directed multiple city departments to immediately investigate the source of the remark.
The comment was not posted during city business hours, but its content is in opposition to the city’s mission statement.
“I have zero tolerance for the type of language used in the Facebook comment,” O’Reilly said. “The comment violates the city of Dearborn’s values and practices, as well as our expectations for employees. It violates the very heart of our mission statement, which is that we must earn the public’s trust in everything we do.”
The city provides employee training addressing discrimination, sexual harassment and cultural sensitivity. The city also requires that all employees treat people of all backgrounds with respect. That expectation carries over into employees’ behavior off hours, when, under certain situations, their actions can be considered a reflection on the city of Dearborn.
“We are extremely proud of our diversity and consider it a strength and an advantage,” O’Reilly said. “So we will continue to nurture it and to condemn words or actions that attempt to divide us.”
The American Arab Civil Rights League applauded O’Reilly for taking action on the Facebook post, in a press release.
Also, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations put out a news release stating that “camel” is an oft-used dehumanizing racial slur used against people of Arab ancestry and against Muslims and those who are perceived to be Arab.
“We call on Dearborn officials to reprimand this city employee who clearly holds such racist views while working for a city that has almost half of its population comprising of Arab-Americans and Muslims,” CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said May 6.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])