On Feb. 14, a small newspaper in Alabama published an editorial that inflamed many and caused outrage, not only across our state, but the entire country. It also sparked many conversations.
Goodloe Sutton who, until recently, was the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, published an editorial that called for the Ku Klux Klan “to ride again.” In the editorial and in later comments, he railed against Democrats and those in “gated communities” where, I guess, he thinks Democrats live.
According to Sutton, Democrats are bad and the “KKK are the nicest.” He proposed to sic them on the Democrats trying to raise taxes in Alabama, and then to march on Washington D.C. and “lynch” lawmakers. It turns out that this isn’t Sutton’s first controversial editorial. He’s apparently been churning them out regularly. This one happened to go viral.
At first blush, I was aghast at the not-so-subtle racist remarks. Here was another black eye for Alabama, a state where our history glass is more than half full of negative stories about race relations, despite the many positive ones. My first thought at hearing the news was that by the next day it would be a national headline, and I would get calls from my Yankee cousins about how bigoted we are in the South. I was wrong. It made national news that same night. I was not wrong about the calls. Just another affirmation about the power of the press.
After reflecting on it for several days, however, I’ve come to think there might be a silver lining. It’s a reminder that the KKK and other white supremacy groups are still among us. They haven’t gone away. There are people today who have the same bigotries that could be found in the hearts of too many people in our past. The white supremacists of today hate just as much as any from our history.
I have met several well-educated people who are unaware the KKK still exists and are surprised when I point out that hate crimes continue to rise. I remind them of the 2017 murder conviction of a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va., or the man who is awaiting trial in Pittsburgh for allegedly storming into a synagogue last year and killing 11 people while shouting anti-Semitic remarks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report for 2017 hate crimes rose by 17 percent from the previous year. Even more frightening is the FBI estimates that only half are ever reported.
The Southern Poverty Law Center states it tracked 1,020 hate groups in this country in 2018 and that was a 7 percent increase from 2017. The most significant rise in these groups is that of white supremacists, which went from 100 to 148 in one year’s time. To get a visual of this for clarity go to SPLC’s website www.splcenter.org/hate-map.
Just as with almost any other issue, the first thing to do in combating it is to recognize there is a problem. There is still bigotry within our society. Certainly, progress has been made in the last 60 years, but there is still a ways to go. Hate speech like Sutton’s should be called out for what it is. Don’t mistake condemning what he has written and said as suppression of his guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and/or freedom of the press. To paraphrase the English writer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, I disagree with what Sutton has said, but I will defend his right to say it.
That does not mean I don’t have the same right to criticize his thinking. I do have that right, and I condemn his words.
In one defense of his editorial, Sutton is reported to not care if “liberals” are offended by his ideas. “It’s not their country. It’s our country and if they don’t like it, they can go to hell.”
If you need a minute to try to absorb that absurd logic, go ahead. I tried, but couldn’t. The very Constitution that gives Sutton the right to say his crazy stuff, is the same Constitution that gives anyone the right to disagree with him. I will not try to define what he means by “our country” other than I suppose he means everyone who isn’t liberal. Well guess what, Mr. Sutton? It’s everyone’s country.