Noah Peterson: A town hall Knightmare

Congressman Steve Knight talks with constituents following a town hall at Canyon High School on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Congressman Steve Knight held a town hall here in Santa Clarita on June 1. For those unfamiliar with Knight, he is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He sits on several committees, including the House Armed Services Committee.

He’s an Army veteran, husband and father. He represents the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Simi valleys. Oh, and he’s a Republican.

I decided to attend. I had never been to a town hall before, but based on what I’d seen on TV, I thought I knew what to expect. I wanted to hear the congressman’s views and the opinions of those opposing him.

I was not prepared for what I saw.

I knew that stoning still occurred in certain parts of the world; I just didn’t know it happened in the Santa Clarita Valley. This was a verbal stoning. Audience members didn’t throw rocks – they hurled words.

The shouting began just after Congressman Knight started speaking. He was ambushed. I could already tell this was not going to be a meaningful discussion of alternative perspectives.

From this audience, I would hear no real dialogue, no thoughtful opinions, no cogent arguments. There would be no civility, no decorum, no consideration.

It was clear that most people were not there to listen to the congressman. They were there to yell at him, as if somehow that would change his mind. They wouldn’t let him answer the questions he was asked. Each time he tried, he was interrupted with angry shouts.

When the noise became too disruptive, he moved on. He was then met with a flurry of screams telling him to “answer the question!” This frustrating cycle repeated throughout.

The people in that room desperately wanted to voice their disdain for the congressman. They couldn’t have cared less about his answers.

The agitators wanted Congressman Knight, who remained poised and professional, to know they were angry. They were obnoxious and annoying. Rude and relentless. They had no regard for anyone else in the room.

I thought about the people new to the community who were there to learn about the issues facing their valley. They must’ve driven home wondering what in the world they just experienced … and whether it was too late to move back.

When the town hall was over, nothing had been accomplished.

Now, I could talk about free speech and the First Amendment, but what happened that day doesn’t require a constitutional analysis.

This was disrespect, plain and simple. This was rude people engaging in rude behavior. Maybe they were absent the day their parents taught manners at home, I don’t know.

Whatever happened to disagreement without disrespect? Shouldn’t the exchange of political views be done in a civil conversation, not a primitive shouting match?

Noah Peterson is a Stevenson Ranch resident.

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