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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 15, 1999)
White supremacists should be opposed, not ignored
MATT PETERSON is a
senior English and news
editorial major and a
Daily Nebraskan colum
The leader of. a Mississippi-based
White-supremacy group is planning a
parade in York on Monday, and the
mayor of the town is reportedly hop
ing for “a real cold Nebraska day” to
spoil the group’s plans.
Other city officials share Mayor
Greg Adams’ passive sentiment.
“We feel the best response is no
response,” said City Administrator
Jack Vavra, as reported in a Lincoln
Journal Star editorial. “We hope this
will be the biggest nonevent in the
Unfortunately, it is a recent event
in the history ofYork that served to
attract Richard Barrett and his
Nationalist Movement in the first
Linda Eastman, one ofYork’s few
black residents, said the event and its
organizers were not worthy of atten
tion. And although she said she
planned to videotape the event to
record any participating York resi
dents, she added her voice to the col
lective apathy of city hall.
“If you ignore these people, then
they can’t exist,” she said, as quoted
in a Jan. 5 Omaha World-Herald arti
I’m a firm believer in peaceful
protest, as the legacy of Martin
Luther King Jr. prescribes: “the need
for man to overcome oppression and
violence without resorting to oppres
sion and violence.”
But passivity has nothing to do
with being a pacifist, and while silent
protest certainly has its place, absent
protest is an oxymoron.
Ignorance cannot be ignored. If
no one shows up to protest Barrett’s
demonstration, he and his followers
will assume such racist tripe is sup
ported or, at the very least, tolerated
around here since York is, after all,
just 40 short minutes west on 1-80.
And they have good reason for
expecting this support.
For those with short, or simply
selective, memories, York was die
site of a hate crime in September
Forty young men hoisted
Confederate flags and marched on
the house of an interracial couple.
Some men carried baseball bats and
shouted racial slurs as they vandal
ized the couple’s property.
Three of the men were charged
with felony criminal mischief while
11 others were cited for disorderly
This regrettable incident inspired
Barrett to bring his sideshow further
north than it typically ventures.
According to the Nationalist
Movement’s Web site, Monday’s
10:30 a.m. parade has two purposes:
to protest the observance of Martin
Luther King Jr. Day and to call for an
end to miscegenation, marriage or
cohabitation between members of
Unfortunately, despite the meteo
rological hopes of Mayor Adams, it
can never rain on this parade.
Indeed, it is Barrett’s constitu
tional right to assemble wherever and
whenever he chooses.
The predominant interests of
those he subjects to his opinions are
insignificant legally, as exemplified
by an anti-homosexual parade held
by Nationalists in Boston in 1994
when Barrett’s group of 20 met a
hostile throng of more than 300 pro
Barrett, who is an attorney by
trade, and his Nationalists have
developed a reputation in courts
across the country for suing city gov
ernments that refused the group’s
right to assemble.
This “roving one-man operation”
as he has been described by the Anti
Defamation League, has gone so far
as to compare his methods to those
of the man whose holiday he is
“Richard Barrett is doing in the
1990s for the majority what Martin
Luther King did in the 1960s for the
minorities,” said Barrett of himself,
as reported by The Associated Press.
The city ofYbrk cannot be held
accountable for Barrett’s choice of
venue. Indeed, despite being obliged
to approve the group’s application for
assembly, the York City Council also
passed a resolution “disassociating”
the city’s interests from the organiza
Disassociation is certainly safer
than outright opposition.
I have come to expect institution
al apathy with respect to such divi
sive matters, but die passive consent
of local citizens, as well as major
local newspapers, is cause for con
A leder to the editor from a Yi k
resident published in the Jan. 10
World-Herald actually pleaded for
the media to ignore the event alto
“The media will cover it because
they fedit is newsworthy,” Ruth Pohl
wrote, “feut if they didn’t cover it, I
doubt he would bother to come here.”
Yet another conscientious objec
tor pleaded for the media to abstain
from covering the event in a letter
published in Thursday’s Journal Star.
“I realize covering the news is a
reporter’s job,” wrote Sheila Novotny
of Lincoln, “but giving this individ
ual and this event air time or newspa
per space is not only encouraging to
him but also a subtle show of sup
port. It’s what feeds his efforts.”
A white supremacist marching
through the streets ofYork is unques
tionably news. It may not be nation
ally relevant news as the Nationalist
Movement’s self-important Web site
portends, but it certainly merits local
media attention - arguably more
attention than it has thus far garnered
in local papers.
The World-Herald lent its own
approval to the clarion call of apathy
in a Jan. 6 editorial titled
“Supremacists should get cold shoul
der,” and the Lincoln Journal Star
also encouraged people to stay away
in a staff editorial titled “Free speech
includes the right to ignore them.”
Despite the good intentions of
this passive multitude, silence is
often interpreted as tolerance, and
Barrett’s ignorance on parade is not
Because of the actions of 40 rash,
young men, Barrett expects to find
an audience for his ignorance on
He is already aware of the sup
port in this area for his racist opin
Spend your holiday Monday cele
brating the memory of one of the
most significant men in our country’s
Make Richard Barrett aware of
By carrying out executions, the state is no better than the murderers it wants to punish
TIM SULLIVAN is a third
year law student and a
Daily Nebraskan columnist
Today is Friday. A very good
1 Today is the day after the state
was scheduled to use its power to kill
a fellow human being.
Randolph Reeves almost died in
Nebraska’s electric chair yesterday.
And every one of us would have
been responsible for that.
Because the state acts for the col
lective. For the people. 1
In the late 1960s, Charles “Tex”
Watson, Squeaky Fromme, Leslie
Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel,
members of the “Manson Family,”
committed the gruesome Tate
LaBianca murders that shocked not
only California, where they occurred,
but the entire nation.
Charlie Manson, the reputed
leader of the clan, was convicted for
the crimes, even though he may not
have physically participated in the"
murders. He used drugs, the music of
the Beatles and Armageddon-like,
end-is-near rhetoric to preach to his
“Family” that he, and they, would be
among the chosen to be spared when
the end of all things came.
Manson believed the “end’Svould
come after a war between the races,
which he intended to incite by mak
ing it appear that blacks had killed
famous, influential whites.
In Charlie’s twisted, demented
mind, his incitement of a war
between the races would be the
beginning of the end.
“It would be all the wars that have
been fought built one on top of the
other, something that no man could
conceive of in his imagination. You
can conceive what it would be like to
see every man judge himself and then
take it out on every other man all over
the face of the earth,” said Charlie.
The lyrics of the Beatles song
Helter Skelter contained the message
that “Blackie” would win the war,
according to Charlie.
Charlie and his “Family” would
be among the 144,000 “chosen,”
however, who would survive
Armageddon. Revelation 7 is the
Biblical reference Charlie seized in
order to maintain and promulgate this
Charlie got the death penalty. But
that was the late 1960s.
His death penalty was commuted
to life in prison by virtue of the land
mark 1972 Supreme Court decision
of Furman v. Georgia. It was a case
that struck down all then-existing
death penalty laws in the United
States as unconstitutional.
Even though the 1976 decision of
Gregg v. Georgia restored the avail
ability of the death penalty, some
1,000 inmates across the country,
including Charlie Manson, benefited
Charlie’s death sentence was
commuted to life in prison.
Charlie is still alive today.
So is Randolph Reeves, thank
The Nebraska Supreme Court
stayed Reeves’ execution and with
drew his death warrant on Tuesday,
with just two days left before his
scheduled execution and one day
after the Pardons Board declined to
hear his plea for clemency.
Reeves’ attorney, Paula
Hutchinson, argued that Reeves has
been denied his right to equal protec
tion under a newly enacted equal pro
But Nebraska District Court
Judge Earl Withoff disagreed, saying
the law was not retroactive. He also
said Reeves could not prove the spe
cific discrimination that the U.S.
Supreme Court has interpreted the
equal protection clause of the U.S.
Constitution to require. ,
Reeves’ attorney argued the
process itself is racist. Because of
Reeves’ Native American ancestry,
he was far more likely to receive a
death sentence than Ids white coun
I buy that.
I buy virtually every argument
against the imposition of the death
Maybe with two new justices on
the Nebraska Supreme Court, his
attorney’s arguments will prevail and
Reeves’ life will be spared.
On December 2,1997, Robert
Williams, who confessed to murder
ing three women and trying to kill a
fourth during a three-day, three-state
rampage in 1977, was executed in
Nebraska’s electric chair.
It was Nebraska’s first daytime
execution and the first to be wit
nessed by a victim’s relative since the
state resumed carrying out die death
penalty in 1994.
Williams, who was 61 at the time,
was pronounced dead at 10:23 a.m., 6
minutes after the first jolt of electrici
The execution came within hours
after the U,S. Supreme Court rejected
his request to review the dismissal of
his lawsuit alleging that the electric
chair is cruel and indecent. Nebraska
is one of only four states that use the
electric chair exclusively.
I was there that morning.
I stood in the parking lot of the
Nebraska State Penitentiary in a
fenced area reserved for opponents of
the death penalty.
Three television stations inter
viewed me as I stood in quiet protest
of the state killing someone, suppos
edly on my behalf.
I told each of the television news
reporters that interviewed me the
I had worked in the prison system
for 13 years, and had come to the
conclusion that life in prison was a
far worse punishment than death.
Two of the three stations ran the
“sound byte,” as I call it
Why did they run it?
Because they could tell that what
I had to say must be true.
Unless you have experienced 13
years of life behind those walls, you
can’t begin to fathom the horrible tor
ture that it is on the minds and souls
of the men and women we commit to
its confines in order to “punish”
Death, it seems to me, would be a
welcome alternative to a life behind
Life without the possibility of
parole seems to be the clearly prefer
able choice to punish those convicted
of die most heinous of crimes.
The death penalty must be abol
ished. When Moses carried the
tablets down from Mt. Sinai, they
read “Thou shalt not kill.”
That should include the state.
How do we make such a leap in our
logical thought as to conclude that by
transferring die act from an individ
ual one-to-one for the benefit of the
collective, that it somehow excuses it
on an individual level?
In a way, the state is no different
than Charlie Manson. It organizes
cold, calculated executions.
Members of the families of
Reeves’ victims came out in opposi
tion to the state’s exercise of this
power on their “behalf.”
They don’t want Reeves’ blood on
their hands. Neither do I.
But just in case you forgot, if and
when Reeves is executed, as Attorney
General Don Stenberg promises will
happen, my hands will get bloody.
The hands of the families of Reeves’
victims will get bloody.
And so will yours.
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