Can we legally fight ignorance?
Donald Sterling, Nevada rancher, shootings bring racism to forefront
By Attorney Melba Pearson
Special to THELAW.TV
The last two weeks have brought the issues of hate and ignorance to the forefront of the media, as well as the American consciousness. The tragedy in Overland Park, Kansas, the racist rants of a Nevada rancher, and the video of the L.A. Clippers' owner have created debate, shock, and dismay among those watching.
Starting in Kansas, three people lost their lives because of homegrown hate. Frazier Glenn Cross, a lifelong white supremacist, killed 14-year-old Reat Underwood, his grandfather William Corporon, and Terri LaManno. Their deaths were purely because Cross believed they were of the Jewish faith. And if there was any doubt about his intentions, he screamed "Heil Hitler"‘ from the back of the police car at the time of his arrest. Cross now faces the death penalty for his actions. The tragedy in Overland Park is a reminder that homegrown hate groups still exist. While the Ku Klux Klan does not burn crosses and walk down Main Street as they did in the 1950?s, the KKK still exists, along with smaller, less known hate groups that operate throughout America.
The next troubling story emerged when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was embroiled in a dispute with the federal government regarding the ability to graze his cattle on federal land, went on a highly publicized rant about whether or not African Americans were better off during the days of slavery.
The initial issue stemmed from the doctrine of "open range," where cattle were allowed to graze in any open area as long as they were branded. After the federal government purchased land across the country, ranchers were then charged for letting their cattle graze in areas that were previously free. Bundy was one of those ranchers. As a result, Bundy owed the federal government more than $1 million dollars from his refusal to pay the grazing bills that were sent to him over the course of the last twenty years.
At first, Bundy's plight was supported by conservative Republicans who felt that the federal government was unjustly persecuting this rancher. Now, as a result of his rant and subsequent statements, previous supporters such as Senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller have run for cover, no longer speaking in support of his cause.
Lastly, L.A. Clippers' owner Donald Sterling is alleged to be the speaker in a taped rant directed at his girlfriend, who is of Mexican and African American descent. It was purportedly triggered by her photo on Instagram with NBA legend Magic Johnson. Some of Sterling's comments included that he did not want to think about her African heritage, and that she should not be embarrassing him by associating with African Americans. Sterling demanded that she not bring African Americans to Clippers games.
The NBA stated that an investigation has begun. Clearly, the accuracy of the tape needs to be verified. It has also come to light that Sterling was a defendant in a housing discrimination lawsuit brought by the Justice Department for discriminatory rental practices against African Americans, as well as other racial groups, in the buildings he owned. Sterling settled the lawsuit out of court.
While many may view this as a private matter, the issue remains that Sterling is the president of an organization that employs a large number of African Americans. The bigger question is that if these are truly his beliefs, what type of work environment did he create? Not only is he facing potential sanctions by the NBA, he may face lawsuits for creating a hostile work environment if it can be shown that he harassed players of color.
As Americans, we celebrate the freedom of speech. However with freedom comes great responsibility. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences. All Americans need to band together to root out hate and promote understanding.
As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated (who later was a victim of hate motivated violence), injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The author, Melba Pearson, is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.
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