Have you ever heard of the Westboro Baptist Church? You probably have. It's that church that protests anywhere gay people are with their silly signs like "God Hates Fags" or "Death Penalty for Fags" and generally accomplish nothing but being really annoying.
They began by picketing at the funerals of gay people who were the victims of murder, gay-bashing or AIDS but soon branched out into other areas. They most famously picket at soldier's funerals but they also picket at cop funerals. They picketed after one of the space shuttle disasters and blamed it on homosexuals. They did the same at the memorial for the Sago Mine collapse victim's memorial. Once they even protested at a local appliance store for selling Swedish made vacuum cleaners. Seriously.
They're some of the most sickening, vile and stupid people on Earth but they're allowed to be that way. It turns out its actually legal in this country to stand outside a funeral for a dead soldier with a sign that says he's burning in Hell. Even when they've been sued the courts have sided with the church. It's legal to offend people in the United States. It's legal for skinheads to have their awful punk rock shows and wear their dorky suspenders. It's legal for the KKK to parade down the street dressed like ghosts. It's legal for Nazis to goose step up and down the sidewalk in their silly outfits.
Yet a 16 year old kid gets on the PA system at a Walmart and says "Attention Walmart customers, all black people leave the store" and everybody gets sand in their vaginas. The police have to waste their time and resources to track down some kid who pulled a completely harmless prank instead of working on real crimes. This kid is now facing a year in prison for bias, intimidation and harassment.
While all this was going on the Westboro Baptist Church was in New York picketing the funeral of a cop killed in the line of duty. They also spent the week picketing outside several high schools in South Carolina and their schedule says you can join them on the 27th picketing outside a Kevin Smith appearance in Kansas City. (Smith's next movie "Red State" is a horror movie loosely based on the church.)
These are some of the actual comments made from witnesses to the protests:
"In 2010, I want to know why such statements are being made. It flies in the face of what we teach our kids, and that's tolerance."
"I can't believe it in this day and age."
"Appalling, stupid and sad."
"One cannot begin to imagine how people must have felt hearing that, disbelief, dismay and horror are just a few of the terms that come to my mind."
"This was an extremely disturbing event on many levels."
"Any statements like these that can cause harm or grave concern must be addressed as quickly as we can."
"They deserve 25 to life in prison!"
"Some people just left in disgust and said they couldn't believe it."
Oh....wait.....those comments aren't from witnesses to the protesters who are spreading real hate and real evil, those are the over-reactions by a bunch of idiots in a Walmart over a 16 year old's harmless prank. The protest over the cop's funeral barely made the news.
The point of this is not me saying that if you're going to throw the book at the kid, that you have to also throw the book at the picketers. Not at all. Westboro Baptist Church should be allowed to say whatever they want within reason. The First Amendment gives them that right. After all, the greatest freedom a democracy affords its people is the right to offend. Lose the ability to offend and you're no longer living in a free society. My point is what happened to priorities and context in our society? Why can't people tell the difference between something done out of humor and stupidity and something done out of real racism and hatred? Why is everybody so happy to play the victim? Why do we allow the media to pick and choose who they crucify and who they don't?
Five years ago this prank at Walmart would've resulted in nothing. No outrage. No police investigation. No media coverage. It's not like this is the first time it's ever happened. Check Youtube, people have been doing crap like this on store PAs for years. If the kid was caught he'd probably get a slap on the wrist and a grounding. But in this post-Nappy Headed Ho world where the media has to blow every single meaningless racial incident out of proportion, the kid gets arrested and his life has been changed forever. He now has a police record. He's been removed from school. Whenever an employer checks his background he's going to see that arrest for bias, intimidation and harassment. He has the letter R stamped on his forehead for the rest of his life because he did something stupid to make his friends giggle.
A few days ago, during the health care vote, protesters stood outside Capital Hill yelling nigger at Rep. John Lewis, faggot at Rep. Barney Frank and spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver as they entered the building. That's real hatred. That's real racism. That's real bias, intimidation and harassment. Yet, the media didn't give it a tenth of the coverage they gave this Walmart kid. Why? Maybe because there were no idiots there willing to play the victim and give a good sound bite for the man on the street segment?
Cleaver's office released this statement: "This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the N word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans."
Boom. Story over. A far cry from Walmart's statement of "this was an extremely disturbing event on many levels."
Maybe the difference is Cleaver understands that reacting the way Walmart and its customers did is what made the situation explode into such ridiculousness. Cleaver got spit on and the N bomb dropped on him and his response was....meh, whatever. Maybe he understands that words only have the power we allow them to have. Maybe he understands that the way to defeat racism isn't to feed it the attention it craves but to ignore it. The Westboro Baptist Church can hold up all the signs they want, but if everybody just realizes what a joke they are and ignores them, they lose every single bit of power they have. Getting upset at racial based humor or stupid comments by people not knowing what they're saying and getting people fired for slipping up and accidentally saying the wrong thing just feeds the racism machine and gives more fuel to real racism.
A Boston school principal was fired a few days ago after he quoted John Lennon's song "Woman is the Nigger of the World" to two women in a private conversation in his office. He didn't know it would offend anybody, he didn't think he was doing anything wrong, it was just a song...from a friggin Beatle no less. Yet now he's jobless and once again some innocent dummy has the letter R stamped on his forehead. Think it's going to be easy for him to find a new teaching job when he has to constantly explain no, no, no, I'm not really racist, I just like John Lennon? It's pathetic. This guy, Walmart kid and countless others may be guilty of being stupid and not thinking before they speak, but they're not racists or hate mongers. They're just dumb. By crucifying every single one of these guys who make an innocent mistake and never letting sorry be enough, we're doing nothing but inciting real hatred and real racism. It’s time for America to look at itself in the mirror and say sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.