- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

Nat Hentoff’s “NAACP vs. free speech” (Commentary, Monday) misses the point. The New York Post cartoon to which it refers showed police fatally shooting a wounded chimpanzee for its role in writing the stimulus package juxtaposed to a photo of President Obama signing the stimulus legislation.

There are limits to free speech, including yelling fire in a crowded theater and calling for the assassination of the president. In the view of tens of thousands of constituents who called our offices, that cartoon did both.

Most would agree that the cartoon is incendiary, with strong racial undertones reflecting the historic slur of equating African-Americans with primates. Few could argue that the cartoon doesn’t offer encouragement to those who would do racial violence against the president. As Brent Staples of the New York Times, who noted Hitler’s comparison of African-Americans to apes, wrote, “It has something to tell us about the permanence of racist ideas through the centuries.”

The Michael Meyers situation also was distorted. No one, least of all someone with the intellectual heft of NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, eschews a debate on hate speech vs. free speech. However, Mr. Meyers came to the annual meeting to disrupt, not to foster healthy discourse. He didn’t phone in advance to ask to be on the agenda, and he aggressively “bum-rushed” the microphone.

We have the right to expect some modicum of respect for rules. We’re facing a long list of crises from unprecedented high rates of incarceration of people of color, the stampede of unscrupulous mortgage lenders that subjected many families to foreclosure, the lack of quality schools, high dropout rates and record unemployment, to name a few.

We weren’t against free debate, but we needed to debate in a reasoned way that would allow us to move forward on a critical agenda for our organization, our communities and our nation.


Vice president for communications



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