Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2000/ 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
Hate-crime legislation and
anti-Bush ad are flawed
RACE --- IS ALIVE and well, but the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People has set a new
standard with its anti-George W. Bush/hate-crime TV
The ad, which plays off the horrific dragging death of
James Byrd, makes the notoriously vicious tactics of
Republican campaigner Lee Atwater -- once dubbed
"the Babe Ruth of negative politics" -- look like a
Atwater, recall, was the mastermind behind the
comparatively innocuous "Willie Horton" ads in 1988
telling how then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis'
prison-furlough program, when he was Massachusetts
governor, led to Willie Horton's escape from prison and
subsequent rape of a woman.
Even though the Horton ad ostensibly was about liberal
attitudes toward crime and punishment, critics correctly
labeled it race-baiting because it played on whites' fears
of the demonic black man and cast blacks into the
stereotypical mold of predator. Horton was black, his
But the Horton ad was mere child's play compared with
the NAACP's Blair Witch-ish ad, featuring a Dickensian
chain being violently raked along a dirt road. No
vehicle, no people, just the chain and the dust, up close
and brutal, the way it may have looked to James Byrd
as he was being dragged three miles down a Texas dirt
road to his unimaginable death.
Accompanying the image is a voice-over by Byrd's
daughter, Renee Mullins. Appropriately disembodied,
her voice issues a spine-tingling message:
"I'm Renee Mullins, James Byrd's daughter. On June 7,
1998, in Texas, my father was killed. He was beaten,
chained and then dragged three miles to his death all
because he was black. So when Governor George Bush
refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my
father was killed all over again.
"Call George Bush and tell him to support hate-crime
legislation. We won't be dragged away from our future."
Ba-dum. You get the message?
Bush, because he has opposed certain types of
hate-crime legislation, is implicitly responsible for killing
James Byrd. He may as well be responsible for every
other black who dies at the hands of a white. Or every
woman raped by a man. Or every homosexual assaulted
by a hetero.
As hate crimes go, this video surely qualifies as a
misdemeanor. Just like the proposed legislation its
creators want to advance, the ad balkanizes Americans.
By giving special status to certain groups -- basically
everyone but white males -- we do little to protect
potential victims and everything to stratify further a
society that badly needs racial cohesion.
You can imagine the three animals who murdered Byrd:
"Whoa, Bubba, wait a minute, we can't do this! The
feds'll prosecute us for hate!"
No one doubts that the men who killed Byrd were
hate-filled. But aren't all criminals acting on some degree
of prejudice, if not red-raged hate? How do we define
hate and how do we prove or disprove a causal
Critics of hate-crime jurisprudence are rightly puzzled
by such concerns, as well as by questions about the
politicization of enforcement and potential conflicts with
federalism and First Amendment principles. But no
single concern is more compelling than the continuing
stratification of society that such laws inevitably foretell.
To disagree with such an elaborate alteration of criminal
law, meanwhile, is neither to condone hate, as the
NAACP ad suggests, nor to protect the hateful, as
Texas law has proved. It is rather to insist on fairness
and the equal application of law.
Although seasonably ghoulish, exploiting Byrd's death
this way is the antithesis of fairness. He -- and we --
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services