Thursday, February 17, 2011

Free Speech or Cowardice?



I wasn't going to say anything, but...

The latest outburst and outrageous behavior by Dallas County Commissioner deserves censure. It was over the top. It was in poor taste. It was unprofessional. It was impolitic. It went too far. It was unworthy of the office.

Say all of that.

It's not the first time he's done it. I'm hard pressed to believe it will be the last time. I've known Commissioner Price for quite awhile and I can't imagine a scenario related to this incident in which he will apologize. And, if there are those who want to excoriate him for his behavior then fine...go ahead. I don't blame you. No elected official should act this way.

However...

I'm also trying to figure out what makes Dallas lawyer Jeff Turner or any of us believe that he (or she) has the right to personally insult a public official with impunity? Turner, who appeared before the County Commissioners Court in support of Bruce Sherbet, the recently resigned County Elections Administrator whom many believe to be forced out, in a prepared statement repeatedly referred to Price as the 'chief mullah'. Price heard 'Moolah' which is taken to be a racial slur, especially when combined with the word 'tribal' which Turner also used in his remarks.

Why isn't anyone holding Turner accountable for his remarks?

No one says Price came to Commissioners Court spoiling for a fight. He  felt insulted by the remarks and at that point set out on his unseemly rant.

Certainly there were other courses of action. Commissioner Price could have let Turner finish his remarks, after which he could have told him...with as much indignation as he chose to use...that he was personally offended by the tone, tenor and text of the remarks. He could have asserted his right to be treated with respect as a man and as an elected official. Personally, I wish he would have just gotten up and walked out telling Turner and whomever he had with him, that when they were willing to address the matter without personal attack he'd be glad to respond in kind. John Wiley Price would have been the grown up in the room.

But Turner had choices as well. If he knew the impact his prepared words were intended to have, couldn't he have expressed the same thought with other words? If he thought Sherbet's treatment was heavy handed and inappropriate, couldn't he have said that? If he wanted to say that he believed that Price wielded undue influence in this incident, couldn't he have said that? If he felt that Price's pressure tactics were unfair, couldn't he have said that? Why couldn't he have expressed himself in clearer more unambiguous language; why couldn't he have used words that couldn't have remotely been construed as a racial slur?

It always amazes me that people now seem to believe they have the right to use incendiary language, unflattering and insulting imagery and then act 'shocked' and 'appalled' because they get a reaction that 'misinterprets' their meaning or takes their words 'out of context'.


Since Price's actions have brought down upon him all manner of invective and criticism, calling into question his judgement and fitness for office, why don't we engage in questioning Jeff Turner's motive?

If he knows that Price is prone to over react. If he knows Price has shown himself to get angry and use race in ways that stir up controversy (to say the least), isn't it equally as easy to assume that Turner went there to set Price up with his presentation? Is there something about Jeff's issue that makes both his use of the such language above question and suspicion. Are we absolutely certain that his intention wasn't to provoke John Wiley Price? This way, he could come away another victim of the Commissioner's 'irrationality'. The press is trying to 'explain' the difference between 'mullah' and 'moolah' and it makes John Wiley Price look foolish not knowing the difference, but there is no discussion of probable deviousness on the part of Jeff Turner. There is only his 'explanation' that he 'didn't know that the word he repeatedly used, could be thought of as a racial slur.

If Jeff Turner was trying to goad and provoke Commissioner Price into inappropriate 'racist' behavior, Price indeed took the bait. He should have known better. He looks the worse because of it.

Politicians are not above criticism. They are not above caricature. Politicians must be accountable. But there are appropriate venues and appropriate ways to express displeasure...for politicians for sure, but also for citizens.

I have made presentations before the county commissioners court, city council and even state legislative committees many times. I know for a fact I have vehemently disagreed with the policies and the perspectives of some of the elected officials on those particular bodies. I have never used personal attack to get my point across. I have called into question the wisdom and justice of particular laws and audience. I have talked about the impact the decisions of those bodies would have on the lives of the people for whom I advocated. I and those who have stood with me have been passionate, indignant and even 'angry' in our presentations. But never resorted to personal attack or demeaning insult.

It's not necessary, nor is it right.

No one else is questioning Jeff Turner's motives or his judgement. But if indeed, he went to Commissioners Court, with the idea of using inflammatory, insulting, language and degrading imagery, with the idea that John Wiley Price, as a sitting elected official, should not, could not, because of professionalism and decorum be able refrain from rejoining him in kind - then Turner is not racist or a victim of any kind. He is not another 'angry' citizen. He's not exercising free speech.

He is a coward...

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