I thought I had seen all there was to be seen about Shirley Sherrod, until I can across an article titled Sherrod Story False in American Spectator by Jeffrey Lord, a story that advances a ridiculous premise as a part of the right wing media drumbeat to neutralize Shirley Sherrod. It is an all out attack that goes straight for the jugular of black America, an assault whose intentions are simple—to malign our image individually and collectively until we are fully defined by these attempts to confine.
There is a certain amount of irony in using “high-tech lynching” in the title of this article, but I’m not going to go into that right now because you already knew that.
What I want to talk about is fire.
I have seen people play with fire before, the kind of people who work in circuses and or as street performers in places like Key West. Jeffery Lord’s piece reads like he is an amateur fire juggler. How do you call a woman a liar by telling your intended audience that the “lynching” of Bobby Hall Mrs. Sherrod describes on the now-famous NAACP tape as being perpetrated by Sheriff Screws was not your classic, textbook lynching, but nothing more than your garden variety brutal beating of a Negro man to death? Instead, it was just your ordinary, everyday death at the hands of white men who used blunt instruments instead of ropes to kill Mr. Hall while he was being transported to jail in handcuffs.
Ah, but they had no ropes, you see…
This is what Lord quoted from the Supreme Court case Screws vs. U.S. Government:
The arrest was made late at night at Hall’s home on a warrant charging Hall with theft of a tire. Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse.
As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car.
But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying.
An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness.
There was evidence that Screws held a grudge against Hall, and had threatened to “get” him.
This is what Lord wrote after quoting an excerpt from the Supreme Court ruling on the case, which let the killers get a new trial:
“In other words, the Supreme Court of the United States, with the basic facts of the case agreed to by all nine Justices in Screws vs. the U.S. Government, says not one word about Bobby Hall being lynched. Why? Because it never happened.”
I am more than a little ticked off at attempts by writers like Lord-partly at myself for lumping this into the same old “this is the kind of bullshit black people have to put up with”, but mostly at the way the rest of our media’s pundits and cultural border police have already taken out their tool kits to start subtly reshaping the boundaries of discussion, to imperceptibly point some of these raw, unfamiliar moments of truth in front of them into directions they are more comfortable following, ignoring all the while the rest of the drums beating at places like American Conservative, New American, Weekly Standard, and National Review, as if they have convinced themselves that they simply do not hear them.
The semantic game Mr. Lord wants to play neatly sidesteps the messy and inconvenient fact that in both the killing of Mrs. Sherrod’s father and in the killing of Bobby Hall multiple white men acted in concert to end their lives. Given the times that these killings happened, and the circumstances under which they occurred, most reasonable people would conclude that they were racially motivated killings.
But to watch this depraved public spectacle that is guaranteed to erupt from every crazed crackpot crowding the AM dials around the country, every right wing website from NewsMax to Town Hall, and every cable news TV station that has the call letters “F-O-X” in its name , an effort designed to convince an entire segment of our nation’s citizens to act like they are veteran fire jugglers, who have never gotten burned by a errant toss from their own hand…
…I could go on and on, but if we look at the other side of this coin…
Why isn’t there a chorus of voices to join Anderson Cooper and Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson and E.J. Dionne and even Peggy Noonan in condemning the kind of character assassination Andrew Breitbart perpetrated against Mrs. Sherrod? Why are we instead being treated to another round of “see no evil, hear no evil” from this lackluster press corps who call themselves members of the Fourth Estate? Has the press become morally bankrupt? Intellectually impotent? Or is it the glitter of the Murdoch billions than frightens them into a timid and fretful silence?
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then why can’t the nation’s journalists wield their pens or their keyboards as if they were metaphorical machetes to cut through the raft of half truths and purposeful distortions that clutter the airwaves hourly, delusional fantasies the rest of us can see through like they are made of glass?
The real travesty in all of this is, three months from now, when we are in the home stretch of this year’s political races, guys like Jeffrey Lord and Andrew Breitbart will be frequent guests on every news network in the country. Why do the networks—all of them, not just FOX News—gladly lend the air of legitimacy their cameras confer on their guests to these two, and the others like them? Because Lord and Breitbart are guaranteed to do the same thing they are doing now—make no sense, and promote nonsense.
But back to that damn fire these people insist on playing with…
…if you look closely at the picture that headlines this article, you will see what happens when angry amateurs start playing around with fire. Although I would imagine, if I were faced with the choice between being burned alive on a spit or being beat to death while I was handcuffed, that the beating might seem to be preferable, although in the end, death would be the result of either choice.