On the same day last week that news broke in the Times Free Press that Chattanooga police officers had brutally beaten a suspect—fracturing his legs to the point that a bone jutted from one in a graphic example of excessive force—Sheriff Jim Hammond’s face appeared above the fold of last Thursday’s paper under a headline that asserted that insecurity-driven gun sales were related to fears over our first black president.
Hammond said that fear is not his own, but that he was simply relaying what he had heard from citizens when he told the TFP that insecurity was the result of “Mostly fear, mostly fear and uncertainty. Part of it is [the] first black president. I mean, we all see that. We may dance around it, but a lot of people are fearful of, ‘Ah, this is going to ruin our country.’” Yes, of course, that’s it.
The sheriff then appeared before County Commissioners to explain (read: revise) his remarks, telling that body, “What you see in those headlines was not Sheriff Jim Hammond. It was editorial staff taking words and making their own headlines.”
Not quite, sheriff. Commissioner Greg Beck was quoted in the TFP last Friday saying Hammond did not portray the conversation accurately, adding “He [Hammond] is saying what a lot of people are saying, but he shouldn’t be the one saying it. I caution all elected officials not to fuel that kind of tension and resentment.”
Beck later said in the same story that he did not believe it warranted a headline or prominent placement in the paper. But that is not for Beck to decide. While an open hostility toward the president does indeed exist—and that is scary in itself—to suggest that people here are living in fear of crime because of the president’s race is absurd (which Beck also noted).
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, told the TFP that, “Whites will become the minorities in the 2040s, according to the U.S. Census. That’s causing anxiety amongst some folks.” Pair that with the unspoken fears of many in the so-called New South that the long, white reign is nearing its inevitable end and you easily find the recipe for such anxiety. But that doesn’t make it rational or reasonable.
Landing on a day when CBS’s “This Morning” glowingly reported on the city’s super-fast, gigabit Internet speeds and referring to Chattanooga’s “inspiring” rebirth, these stories provide a hefty, dark counterweight to the Good News feed that hovers over Chattanooga in the national media.
If this is the Old South rising again, we wanted no part of it then and certainly do not now.