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Creighton professor regrets tweet calling police rally a 'white supremacist' event

Creighton professor regrets tweet calling police rally a 'white supremacist' event

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A Creighton University religion professor kicked up a dust storm Friday by referring on social media to a support-the-police rally as a white supremacist event.

Zachary Smith’s comment took a pounding on social media and prompted Creighton to issue a statement saying Smith’s view didn’t represent the school’s. Further, the statement said, Smith “regrets his statement and sincerely apologizes for the offense it has caused.”

The Creighton University College Republicans condemned Smith’s tweet, which was taken down Friday afternoon. The Omaha police union also expressed disappointment.

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The episode began when The World-Herald placed an item on its website Monday under the headline: “ ‘Back the Blue’ rally in Omaha to show support for law enforcement.” Smith responded: “Lemme fix this headline for you … ‘White supremacist rally in Omaha to showcase Midwestern racism.’ ”

Creighton College Republican President Tyler Henningsen of Papillion said Friday evening that he first saw Smith’s tweet Friday morning. Henningsen then issued a response, calling Smith’s message “morally repugnant.” He said it stood in contrast with Creighton’s Jesuit tradition of pursuing justice.

The episode comes as nationwide protests have taken place to condemn police brutality, especially against black people. A black man, George Floyd, was killed May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Henningsen contacted Anthony Conner, president of the Omaha police union, with information about Smith’s comment. Conner released a statement saying the rally’s speakers Saturday will include three black men, one Hispanic woman and a white female police sergeant. The rally is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. in Memorial Park.

Conner wrote that he was “disappointed that a professor from Creighton, who has so much influence on the future leaders in the city, would make such a divisive comment at a time when healing should be a priority.”

Conner, who is black and a member of the Omaha Police Department, is scheduled to speak at the rally. Smith couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. According to Creighton’s website, he is an associate professor who teaches classes in the Christian tradition, theology, church history and more.

University spokeswoman Cindy Workman said through a written statement that Smith’s comment impedes “our goal of promoting unity within our community, including our effort to confront systemic racism.”

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the federal Treasury Department to examine the tax-exempt status of colleges. Trump accuses colleges of indoctrinating students in liberal views.

Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said Friday evening: “Perhaps Creighton is a great first step for treasury agents to investigate” for that purpose.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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