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Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2000/ 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports


Hate-crime legislation and
anti-Bush ad are flawed

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
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 ad.

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 wet-nosed puppy.

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 victim white.

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 relationship?

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 -- deserve better.


JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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