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History Repeats?

Posted 7/21/2004

The story of Dexter Hill is not unusual (““A Shot in the Dark,” July 7). In the 1890s, one black person was lynched about every two days. From 1900 to the outbreak of World War I, more than 1,100 blacks were lynched. To stop the killing, the NAACP in 1921 persuaded a member of Congress to introduce legislation making lynching a federal crime. Although the bill passed the House of Representatives, senators from the South prevented the law from being enacted. In addition, white prejudice and the threat of brutality hung over black Americans. Many had seen friends and neighbors dragged off to jail for such crimes as being outside their homes past 10 p.m. Few black Americans felt safe from local police, even inside their homes. Approximately 98 percent of the white assailants were never prosecuted.

Leo Williams


The Mad Haters

While Russ Smith (Right Field, July 7) concedes that “conservatives are not innocent in the ratcheting up of campaign rhetoric,” he is unwilling to examine the legacy of conservatives over the past 20 years.

Much of today’s rhetoric has its roots in Newt Gingrich’s 1990 memo, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” in which Republicans were instructed that “words and phrases are powerful” and that the following words (and many more) had been test-marketed and should be applied to the opponent, their record, proposals, and party: “decay . . . destroy . . . sick . . . pathetic . . . lie . . . liberal . . . betray . . . traitors . . . endanger . . . coercion . . . hypocrisy . . . radical . . . threaten . . . devour . . . corruption . . . destructive . . . greed . . . ideological . . . anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs . . . intolerant . . . cheat . . . steal . . . abuse of power.” Gingrich was not an isolated extremist; he was one of the most powerful men in the country and no one from the right has ever repudiated these methodically partisan tactics.

And while the right wing rages about the “liberal media,” consider what goes unchallenged on America’s airwaves and editorial pages. The screed of Rush Limbaugh is echoed on the floor of Congress: Abu Ghraib was nothing worse than a college fraternity prank. Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley criticizes George Soros as “a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust.” Commentator Bill O’Reilly lies, asserting that Soros labeled the abuse of Iraqi prisoners “worse than 9/11.” Ann Coulter and Joe Scarborough, on separate occasions, each brand Michael Moore as “treasonous.” But no conservative has called for an end to this slander.

And it gets worse. In an echo of Gingrich’s memo, popular radio commentator Michael Savage referred to a liberal congressman as a “human atrocity,” liberalism as “a mental disorder,” and liberal journalists as “verminist traitors.” He went on to label liberal members of congress “dangerous for your children and other living creatures.” To complete the picture, Savage describes Arab Muslims as people who “need to be forcibly converted to Christianity,” saying “it’s the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings.” We have seen this sort of language again and again in political discourse—most recently in Rwanda—but Savage has his own historical reference: “Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I’d like to see done to these . . . nonhumans.” Savage uses more colorful rhetoric, but Coulter also is on record stating many of the same opinions about liberals and Arab Muslims.

Where is the outrage from Smith, from moderate Republicans, from the president who vowed to govern as a “uniter, not a divider”? Absent. Smith will ponder abstractly the question of partisanship, or offer up tame examples of conservatives whipping Bill and Hillary for sins of the flesh. Perhaps he should think about the example set by Joseph Welch, who succinctly asked Sen. Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Peter Metsopoulos


On the Street Where You Live

I’d like to thank City Paper and Anna Ditkoff for reporting the eight murders that occurred between July 5 and 11 (Murder Ink, July 14). The last one reported, that of Perry Lamont Nelson Jr., occurred on my street. I heard the shots that killed him. I stood with the small crowd of my neighbors and watched as the EMTs hoisted him into their ambulance. And after they drove away, it was as if the whole thing had never happened. His life had stopped short, and for those few minutes last Saturday night, so had the lives of everyone in my neighborhood. Thanks for noticing, City Paper.

Amber Wagner


Bring Back WPA, CCC, FDR, PDQ

In reference to the Service Employees International Union’s efforts to increase wages for hospital workers in Baltimore to a “self-sufficiency standard” (“Nickel and Dimed,” Mobtown Beat, June 23), the only thing that put America back to work in the 1930s were government job programs like the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps.

The only thing that got us out of the ’30s Depression was the ’40s World War II. After a couple of years of post-war high unemployment, the thing that got America back to work was the Cold War—government-financed munitions manufacture and the military.

Efforts to heal the pain of unemployment and low-wage dead-end jobs through so-called “empowerment zones,” marginal entrepreneurial efforts, or feeding government contracts to smaller businesses simply won’t cut the mustard. (Except, of course, if you just happen to be the local businessman recipient or bureaucrat who skims a salary off the local poverty program.)

Waiting for the for-profit industries to solve the unemployment problem is like waiting for Godot. The only thing that could end unemployment, and the many problems attendant to it, is for the federal government to create jobs as it has in the past.

Such jobs must be socially relevant—rebuilding our cities, cleaning up our environment, solving the problems of health, education, transportation, and community development. Such jobs must be democratically controlled—completely open to join existing trade unions or to form new ones.

What is needed, in other words, is an emergency government jobs program, controlled by labor, geared to youth, the homeless, the unemployed and underemployed, the low-income—like the WPA and CCC of the 1930s—with adequate child care, job training, and temporary housing. Let’s deal with it.

A. Robert Kaufman


Mr. Very Wrong

You shouldn’t even be allowed to speak the English language, as you have complete contempt for it and each word that you emit from your foul mouth says nothing more than, “This is dumb and empty and says nothing but I’m smart because I’m aware of it. It’s the fault of my stupid American culture that everything is dumb and empty but I’m smart enough to know it. Isn’t it ironic that I have a column in which I don’t have to ever say anything. How great, I don’t even have to think and I get paid to write my thoughts!” (Mr. Wrong, May 26) People like you shouldn’t even be allowed to speak on the subway, let alone be given a column in the paper. It’s a desperate world when people who have absolutely no perspective and nothing at all to say are told, “Here, here’s a forum. Tell people your dumb thoughts. No matter how dumb they are. Even if you don’t think ANYTHING for two weeks, just write down one word over and over and that can be your column. Because, that’s witty and funny and self-aware.” God, I hate City Paper, mostly because they deem it fit to publish you.

Rebecca Schwartz


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