Dirty Harry

I don’t really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don’t give a shit. If you don’t like it, don’t come down my street.” 

I had to let this one stew for a little while…y’all.

So, some asshole in Texas decided to make a statement by “lynching” an empty chair. The empty chair is a pretty obvious reference to Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing improv at the Republican National Convention (I like Clint and think he’s a hell of an actor and director, so it was really painful to watch clips of him arguing against a straw man and losing). The rope? Well, that’s a pretty obvious symbol too. 

What now? Did he do anything illegal? No, I don’t think he did. He has a right to be a racist jackass and let the world know what a buffoon he is. Is he being offensive? Sure, but there’s no right that protects us from being offended. As long as he’s doing this on his own property and he isn’t directly threatening anyone, I think this probably counts as protected speech.

One doofus, of course, isn’t a huge deal, even if he is committing truly epic acts of stupidity. Over at the Temple of The Perpetually Victimized White People, of course, they’re very supportive of this particular doofus. They want to start an “empty chair” campaign. 

That’s where it gets weird to me. What happened to shame and ridicule? The check and balance against racist assholes is that society-at-large will point their finger at said assholes and laugh and laugh and laugh until the asshole trudges back into his cave. When did supporting offensive acts become acceptable? This reminds me of the Chick-fil-A brouhaha. It was one thing for their owner to remark that he was taking his customers’ money and using it to fight efforts to provide equal rights for a minority. It was quite another when people proudly lined up at Chick-fil-A expressly to _support_ the repression of rights. That’s messed up.


On a tangential, but serious, note: At what point does this kind of speech become a hate crime? The symbolic nature of an act does matter. It’s one thing to set a log on fire on you’re neighbor’s lawn. It’s another to burn a cross on the lawn of a black family. Materially, they’re the same thing, but it would be obtuse to ignore the symbolic nature of the act. So…hanging a chair in one’s own lawn. I think that’s probably ok in a strictly legal sense. Hanging an effigy of the President? Again, I think you’re ok. Hanging a generic black man? I’m not certain that doesn’t qualify as an attempt to threaten and/or intimidate in a way that crosses the line. Doing the same thing but in a public space as opposed to on your own property? Yeah, you’re well over the line at that point.

At least, that’s my take on it. Hate crime laws are (legitimately, I think) subject to slippery-slope concerns. There’s a subjectivity to them that makes them easy to abuse, at least in theory. But, pretending that there isn’t an obvious, coercive “message” in certain acts is equally problematic. If anyone has any thoughts on the subject, I’m all ears.

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