A Particular Strain of Whiteness
First, the interview:
Yep. Is there anyone he does not insult? And day after day, news story after news story, Strain has stuck to his guns (pun intended).
"I don't want to get into calling people names, but if you're going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy."
"Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' " -- July 8
He sees no problem targeting hairstyles as if hair is as strong a piece of evidence as DNA. As Jarvis DeBerry points out in an excellent column "Black hair is always suspect," this is not the first or last time African Americans have been targeted in St. Tammany parish (or elsewhere) because of hair. DeBerry starts his column recounting a case in St. Tammany in 1996:
St. Tammany Parish prosecutors were trying to convince a jury that [Ronnie] Johnson and an accomplice had shot two men dead outside a Slidell sweet shop on July 12, 1996.
The problem facing prosecutors during the August 1999 trial was that their evidence sucked. Each of the state's alleged eyewitnesses fell into one of two categories: They either gave a version of events that was contradicted by the autopsy report or they were in prison and, thus, had reason to curry favor with the state.
With his case clearly falling apart, the assistant district attorney tried to arouse the mostly white jury's prejudices. He asked Ronnie Johnson why he wore his hair that way.
Johnson's hair was cornrowed.
Think Leroy from television's "Fame." Think D'Angelo of the album "Brown Sugar." Think Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers or Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets.
The prosecutor wanted the mostly white jury to think "gang," to think "violence," to think "incorrigible criminal." In short, to think "nigger." And to send Johnson to prison for the rest of his life.
Someone had told me, only half-jokingly, that the typical juror in St. Tammany says, "Well he got arrested, didn't he?" before quickly moving to convict.
That case turned out for the better despite the plan of the prosecutor. ("Not these 12. Closing arguments ended, and 45 minutes later they were back with an acquittal.")
Strain equates "thugs" and "trash" and "spillover crime" with "New Orleans" and "Katrina evacuees," following the age-old local belief/worldview that New Orleans, specifically Orleans parish (not the Jefferson parish suburbs), is not only "black" but "crime-ridden" and "dangerous" so people move out of town to "be safer" and have "better" schools (another race-based delusion). "Crime" and "black" are used synonymously by some here. You see it everywhere in the area but especially in the expanded metro area. Letters to the editor from St. Tammany and other outer parishes (talkign in a very New Orleans-centric way) generally support Sherrif Strain and his worldview, like this example fromthe Times-Picayune dated July 14:
If you are offended at being stereotyped because you wear dreadlocks or a "chee-wee" hairstyle, then cut your hair. Stop living the stereotype. If you don't want people to think you are a gangster or a punk, stop dressing like a gangster or a a punk.
Besides, what has St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said that hasn't been said by the New Orleans police, Mayor Ray Nagin and various members of the City Council? If you are going to commit crime, we don't want you here. Black, white, red, green, yellow -- doesn't matter. I, for one, will cast my vote for Sheriff Strain whenever he is on the ballot.
Strain tries to defend himself by saying he has never been accused of a civil rights violation. As I would say to students while teaching argument, that is weak and specious support. Conversely, I could say that since I have never been accused of lying in public that I have never lied. A student could say because she has never been caught plagiarizing that she is clean as fresh-fallen snow. Not being accused or found guilty in public does not mean no codes or mores or ethics or civil rights have been violated. Strain's refusal to see any problem with his statements is what is most alarming to the ACLU, the Covington NAACP and others. He does not see how targeting individuals because of hairstyles, not because of physical description or DNA or MO, is problematic, does not see that there might be a difference, as Donatus King, president of the local New Orleans NAACP chapter, said, "If the suspect is a 5-foot-tall male with dreadlocks, that doesn't justify stopping a 6-foot-tall male with dreadlocks." Only someone who thinks blacks are interchangeable, who could believe that collective punishment is a crime-fighting technique (or method of diplomacy) would defend the statements made.
Black hair is always suspect by Jarvis DeBerry *
Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' *
ACLU: Sheriff's hairstyle comment racist *
Sheriff isn't backing down at all *
Hume defends racist remarks -- Brit Hume defended Strain's comments on July 11
A 'strain' on relations from The Louisiana Weekly
Sheriff Strain defends his statements -- from KLFY in Lafayette
* items all at Nola.com (registration required--pissants)