Racist billboards are an abuse of freedom

Posted 6/25/16

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, but practitioners are not required to pass an intelligence test.

We present Mr. Rick Tyler, who lists himself …

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Racist billboards are an abuse of freedom

Posted

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, but practitioners are not required to pass an intelligence test.

We present Mr. Rick Tyler, who lists himself as an Independent candidate in the race for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, as our walking — and talking — proof.

It is Tyler’s inflammatory “Make America White Again” and provocative “I Have a Dream” billboards — which came down last week as quickly as they went up in Polk and Bradley counties — that sparked a groundswell of protest among area residents who adamantly agree racism is not only wrong, it is evil.

So do we.

Yet, Tyler — a 58-year-old native of Miami who migrated to our neighboring Ocoee community and serves as principal owner of the Whitewater Grill eatery — appears to believe otherwise.

In an inexplicable move to advertise his campaign by alienating anyone who is not Caucasian, Tyler funded the erection of the “Make America White Again” billboard on U.S. Highway 11 in Polk County, as well as the disrespectful “I Have a Dream” signage on U.S. Highway 64 in our own Bradley County.

About as soon as they went up, both came down. Reportedly, the deconstruction came by the hands of the billboard owners who may have feared public backlash. Tyler has contended in news media interviews he paid for the signs and did not authorize their removal. In one media account, he said he would be seeking legal counsel and that he hoped to have the signs resurrected within the next few days.

We respect his concerns, but we condemn his desires.

To the Ocoee businessman, we offer this reminder: Freedom of speech is not absolute. Here’s another way of saying it. Remember that old adage about the immorality of screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater? Same principal.

Based on media reports, including our own in the Cleveland Daily Banner, Tyler contends he’s trying to make a point — that in today’s America everybody’s rights are taking priority over the rights of the nation’s majority: whites.

Here’s an example. In an interview with a local newsman, Tyler reportedly declared, “I’m doing something that in modern political history no one has ever done. ... I’m laying out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are certain issues that are verboten in modern politics, race obviously being one of them.”

Perhaps trying to ride the coattails of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — whose campaign is wrapped around a “Make America Great Again” theme — Tyler is taking a far more extremist view.

“My main impetus would be to stop ... all non-white immigration into the U.S.,” he is quoted as saying in one interview. While calling himself a good Christian and claiming that he has nothing against people of color, Tyler absurdly suggests, “What’s the big deal with making America white again?”

Anyone who would ask such a question obviously doesn’t get it. Here’s why it’s a big deal, Mr. Tyler.

America’s strength is her diversity.

America’s heart is her love of others and her tolerance of change.

America’s soul is her belief that difference breeds opportunity.

America’s purpose is her embrace of values and cultures and customs that are unlike our own.

America’s heartfelt ideal is that all men, and all women, are created equal and as such reserve the right to live as equals.

America’s undying resolve is to preserve the meaning of “We the People,” while guarding against any who would seek to divide us through words of hate, messages of fear and warnings of imminent doom.

Your words, Mr. Tyler ... your billboards ... epitomize the wrongs of past oppressors, unthinking and misguided legions like the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis of Adolf Hitler and the murderers calling themselves al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

Your search for a better world doesn’t fall on deaf ears. But your approach leaves us dumbfounded.

We remind you of the recent repercussions of your actions by your own Polk County brethren, those whose votes you seek. Chris Newton, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee, outraged over your chosen signage, described them as “overtly racist billboards.”

And that’s exactly what they are, regardless of the reckless spin you use to try to defend them.

It is also the Kiwanian leader — who serves the families of Polk County — who told our newspaper, “We are a civic club of inclusion and not exclusion, and find these statements repugnant. As a citizen of Polk County, I, Chris Newton, will never personally be back to this establishment [Whitewater Grill].”

The civic leader feels hurt on behalf of his community and those who call it home.

Yet, he should not.

The shame lies not with the people of Polk or Bradley or any of the 10 counties which comprise the 3rd Congressional District and which soon may be dirtied by more of your billboard propaganda, Mr. Tyler.

The shame lies with you.

Ideas are good. The right to express them is better. Recognizing the mandate of personal responsibility, and humanitarian accountability, is best.

We ask that you rethink your direction.

And we remind you, America is long past her days of “Ozzie and Harriett” and “Leave It To Beaver.” Both were good shows then.

But today’s America is now.

And the answer is not to try to revert to an outdated past, but to understand how — as a people united — to face an uncertain future.

We’re in this together — people of all colors, faiths, genders, cultures and persuasions. Can we not make room for all?

We are reminded of a slogan used by The Refuge, a nonprofit organization that is truly making a difference in the impoverished neighborhoods of South and East Cleveland.

It goes something like this, “We can do far more together, than we could ever do apart.”

It makes sense.

But before it can work, it must be tried ... by all.

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