CNN race town hall meeting post mortem

Since writing recently about the televised town hall meeting concerning race on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now,” I thought I’d offer a brief post mortem.

The meeting held in my old adopted hometown of Beaumont, Texas, came about as a result of a controversial report earlier on Zahn’s show concerning the racist past of nearby Vidor. Vidor officials did not attend the town hall gathering figuring they’d just get slammed anyway. It’s too bad because they had a chance to say that “they get it.”

Basically, the town should acknowledge their past and deal with it. It’s been done in other cities. For instance, Waco’s tourist bureau does not hide the fact that the Branch Davidian saga — which actually occurred 10 miles outside of Waco — happened and that it was a sad chapter in American history. Likewise, Dallas does not try anymore to deny John F. Kennedy was murdered on its streets. A museum is now located where Oswald allegedly fired the fatal shots.

A couple of great points were made on the Zahn forum by my friend, author Joyce King, who wrote the book “Hate Crime” about the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, the town in which I was born.

First, Joyce said something on the show that she had said to me before about racial reconciliation that I thought was particularly poignant:

“Part of the problem is trying to forget history when we have never learned history. I begin a lot of lectures telling students, blacks and whites are in a marriage arranged by God. Neither one of us can get a divorce. We ought to stop trying.”

The crowd applauded another good observation that Joyce made based on her experience covering and researching the Byrd dragging death:

“You know what leads to racial healing? Justice. We saw it with James Byrd Jr. These three white guy were arrested within 24 hours of the crime without international media pressure. There was no pressure. And I have to mention my good friend, Sheriff Billy Rowles, who’s not with us tonight. There was no pressure on him to do this. He arrested them. Arrest, convictions, that sends a powerful message to this country that justice is the way to open the door to healing.”

To acknowledge the past would be the easy part for Vidor in dealing with its legacy. The difficult part is distancing itself from all the knuckleheads and idiots who seem to be drawn to Vidor like moths. Exhibit A, the cop who took lewd pictures of a 17-year-old on the hood of his squad car. Speaking of Vidor police, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this photo which I must warn you contains sexually explicit Mardi Gras breasts being flashed .

Luckily, a former Vidor resident was not arrested after California police looked at him as a person of interest in the Esperanza fire that killed five firefighters. Another man was arrested in that fire.

Billy Hutson, who had been the person of interest, had been a trainee with the Vidor Volunteer Fire Department when he was arrested in 1997 for torching (what else?) a mobile home. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to those charges and was sentenced to 10 years. Obviously, he didn’t spend 10 years in prison.

Yes, the town of Vidor may be making slow progress in confronting its racist past but it still has a lot of work in other areas as well.

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