A screengrab of Staff Sgt. Suneel Mehta's tweet.
(MarineTimes.com) - A Marine in Twentynine Palms, Calif., is under fire for his comments on Twitter making light of the Trayvon Martin case, which has provoked a contentious debate about racism in America.
"Rifle range all day today. Shooting black all day like George Zimmerman!" Staff Sgt. Suneel Mehta said via Twitter, referencing the color of targets used during Marines' weapons training.
Marine Corps Times received an email late Wednesday that included a photograph of Mehta's tweet and the following message: "I needed to share this with all of you. This guy is sick. As long as people like this exist and are allowed to speak with impunity, none of our children are safe. He's a disgrace to humanity, the American people, the armed services, and the United States Marine Corps."
The sender did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment.
After being contacted by Marine Corps Times, Mehta, a wire chief with Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, deleted his post and then his entire Twitter account, for which he used the handle "Usmcsgt2683."
"It was a distasteful comment that was said. I guess at the time I didn't realize how my one comment would affect so many people negatively, and for that I apologize to everybody," he said via phone.
Mehta said he hadn't really been following the case of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman in Florida. Zimmerman was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder.
Mehta's tweet is the latest social media misstep for Marines.
Sgt. Gary Stein, founder of the Armed Forces Tea Party group on Facebook, faces separation from the service for openly criticizing President Obama. Stein's attorneys have argued he's acting within the boundaries of the law, and that he has a right to free speech.
In January, the world learned via YouTube of a video showing Marines appearing to urinate on suspected Taliban corpses. Weeks later, the Corps' top general, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, apologized on behalf of the service after images circulated online showing Marine scout snipers posing beneath a flag bearing the Nazi-era "SS" symbol.
The Marine Corps' social media handbook, published last year, warns Marines "You are personally responsible for your actions. ... Always use your best judgment and keep in mind how the content of posts will reflect upon yourself, your command, and the Marine Corps - now and in the future!"
Mehta, a Marine for the last 10 years, said he has led and recruited Marines of "all races and ethnic backgrounds" and that he is not a racist.
"Any superior Marine or junior Marine that knows me, knows that no matter who the Marine is, the color of the skin doesn't matter to me," Mehta said. "I look at the person."
In addition to dropping his Twitter account, Mehta also took down his MySpace account.
"I see how social media is becoming such a huge problem," he said. "To me, the safest thing to do is just leave social media alone."