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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 --
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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08/08/00:Outreach: Good strategy and long-run policy
08/04/00: A sharp look back at the Vietnam War
08/01/00: Bush's choice of grown-up Cheney is a stroke of genius
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03/30/00: Duct-taped baby serves as warning
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03/24/00: No 'Great Expectations' when schools shun the classics
03/21/00: It's common sense to restrict Internet usage in libraries
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03/10/00: I made a mistake about trigger-locks
03/08/00: After this school shooting, no easy target for our contempt
03/03/00: Car crash helps bridge our divide
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02/14/00: College testing via Lego-building -- yeah, right
02/02/00: Bubba should spare us phony love theatrics
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12/29/99: Grandparents' rights impinge on family autonomy
12/13/99: When did fathers become fair game?
12/09/99: Don't be stupid about at-risk kids
12/07/99: Pokemon is no substitute for a father
12/02/99: Blaming the victim --- men
11/30/99: Baby-killer's story has less-than-Precious ending
11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
11/11/99: Skip the applause for this baby news
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11/03/99: Who needs 'birds and bees' when we have MTV?
11/01/99: Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say
10/26/99: Children's needs must take priority in divorce system
10/19/99: The deadbeat dad is less a scoundrel than an object of pity
10/15/99: Bullying boys ... and girls
10/12/99: Divorced dads ready to wage a revolution
10/04/99: A father's best gift? His presence
09/30/99: Sorry, guys, Faludi is no friend of yours
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09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want
09/21/99:Focus on more than baby's first 3 years
09/16/99: Commentary from kids sheds no light on day-care debate
09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
09/07/99: A slap in the face of domestic violence
09/01/99: No, ma'am: Legislation on manners misses the mark
08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
08/19/99: Male 'sluts'
08/11/99: Language doesn't excuse bad behavior
08/09/99: When justice delayed is still justice
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
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07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
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06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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