Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mob Rule versus Free Speech

I doubt few today do not know who Donald Sterling is and why the NBA just announced that they would force him to sell the LA Clippers basketball team. Everyone is cheering this decision except for a small minority that believes we are watching what amounts to mob lynching. There is no doubt Sterling is maybe a racist, but for sure a bigot.

I remember watching old Frankenstein movies where they peer from the castle tower to see towns people marching toward them with torches. This same scene has been repeated many times in real life and too often with deadly results. In the short history of the USA we have had too many instances of mob rule.

The world has changed greatly. Today, instead of towns people carrying torches they now carry pens and microphones. It seems almost daily someone is being tried and convicted by those with the loudest voices and the mightiest pens. There is always a call for swift justice against those who might say the wrong thing, or simply disagree with what was spoken.

In the recent case of Donald Sterling, the 81 year old man who some say has problems with senility, and also has a 30 year old black-Latino girlfriend, has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Within a day of the release of a recording from a private conversation the race masters were out calling for the NBA to take away his team. In quick response they have essentially done just that.

This could have been the story about a young gold-digger who used her sexual wiles to con an 81 year old man out of more than a million dollars. It's been said that Sterling's wife has sued the mistress for that million plus dollars. It is clear this woman knew of her aged sugar-daddy’s bigotry. It's also clear she fed that bigotry to produce the audio recording we all heard.

This man's bigotry was no secret, but because he was a billionaire and donated to such organizations as the NAACP, he received many awards. The NBA had often overlooked this man's personal beliefs – that is until there was the public outcry against him from the angry mob. The players knew who their team's owner was and yet they happily played and accepted their million dollar paychecks. After release of the recording players quickly claimed their victim status.

If the players had truly felt as strong as they now appear to feel, they could have refused to play for this man, while upset fans could have refused to attend games. If those people had done these things the free-market would have solved this problem. If the team failed financially then he would have been forced to sell.

There is talk now that groups are going to go after team owners that don't support gay marriage. There are any number of issues where the owner or CEO can be labeled a racist or bigot and forced to sell or resign. We have watched this very thing happen with the forced resignation of Mozila CEO Brendan Eich, and the call for Condoleezza Rice's resignation from Dropbox board. Those calling for these reprisals might as well be carrying torches to the castle.

Some are trying to make this a 1st Amendment issue, but it's not because that protects speech against government. As a society we have prided ourselves on the right to speak our minds. The Supreme Court has made many rulings that broaden the Constitutional right to free speech.

I must at this point ask, do you want to force bigots and racists to cloak themselves in secrecy? Do you want to spend your money, or in some cases even marry a bigot or racist because they have been forced by society to stay tight lipped? In the case of a baker and photographer the suits against them will simply force other businesses to hide their political, religious, or bigoted beliefs. Because of this forced silence you will find yourself assisting the people for whom you hold disdain in becoming wealthy, famous, or even the leaders of your community. To know these people we must encourage them to speak out. Sterling's mistress knew she could at some point use his words to her advantage.

In a free society a person should be able to speak what they believe, even when that speech is hateful or disgusting. Do you want to live in a society where even the misinterpretation of your words could be misconstrued as racist and your life ruined forever? I dare say we all have made statements that someone has thought to be racist or bigoted.

Speech has been turned into a political and societal weapon. The next time you hear of an instance like Sterling, watch and see what happens. Notice if people gladly keep accepting his money and overlooking his views. How many of you have a a supervisor or employer you believe to hold racist or bigoted beliefs – or maybe political views you find repulsive? Are you looking for a new job, or do you overlook this person because you enjoy your job and pay? I can tell you that few will walk away.

When I find a business owner or manager to be racist or bigoted, I walk away and give my money to someone who comes closer to sharing my standards. This is how a free society should work. We shouldn't go after people in mobs simply because they don't share your societal standards. We have laws for when those people use their prejudices to discriminate. Be patient and let the law take its normal slow course. We must never forget the speech most in need of protection is that with which we disagree.

If you decide to become a part of the mob, at least make sure you don't expose your own biases. Basketball great Shaquille O'Neal posted an instagram photo where he mock a man who has a rare disorder that affects his appearance. I personally find that more disgusting than Sterling's comments. Will the same mob call for O'Neal to sell his stake in a pro basketball team – or be banned from ever attending another NBA event? I'll bet not.

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