Content Of Our Character

The quickest way to end a political conversation in DC these days is to bring up the issue of race. Most people, especially Caucasians (such as myself) are loath to discuss the issue. Your average Democrat (such as myself) would rather ride in the backseat with Lindsey Lohan at the wheel than openly discuss racial issues.

But I decided to breach these dangerous waters because of something I saw on television. It bothered me to see the head of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, R. L. White, laying the credibility of his organization on the line to defend Michael Vick.

Vick is the very popular African-American quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. He has recently been in the news because he is being investigated by the federal government for allegedly breeding pitbulls for dog fighting, as well as having such fights on his property. If that wasn’t bad enough, it has also been alleged that Vick tortured and killed dogs that did not win fights.

This is not Vick’s first time having a public relations problem. Vick settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged he gave her herpes. He has been accused of stealing a watch and trying to get a water bottle with a secret compartment that smelled of marijuana through airport security (no charges were filed in either case).

Despite the troubled past and the even more troubling recent charges, the NAACP decided to wade into the situation on behalf of Vick. White said the way Vick is being treated amounted to a “crime.”

R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media and prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.

“If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime, but to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime,” White said at a news conference. “Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed.”

The Atlanta NAACP stand in the Vick case is in marked contrast to the stand taken by the North Carolina NAACP during the Duke Lacrosse rape case. To refresh your memory, it was alleged that white members of the Duke Lacrosse team raped a black stripper at a party. The players were charged, but eventually cleared and the DA in the case, Mike Nifong, has since lost his license to practice.

The head of the Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber, had plenty to say about the case before it went to court, speaking at vigils for the defendant, asking the Duke President to conduct his own separate investigation of the incident, and outright indications of his desire to see arrests made. Barber, who graduated from N.C. Central University as well as Duke’s divinity school, said the NAACP would keep watch over the proceedings.

“After all of these weeks of speculation, the demeaning of [the accuser] by defense lawyers and sometimes misinformation in the press, now we have the indictments,” Barber said. “We hope to be satisfied as we move forward. The indictments are not the end of our monitoring.”

How does the NAACP reconcile their different stand between the two cases, other than the race of the defendant?

The ultimate goal of those who sacrificed in the 50’s and 60’s at marches, lunch counters and sit-ins was to provide a more color blind society. Today’s NAACP seems to be retreating from that, alternatively defending and prosecuting people in famous cases solely on the basis of their race. Who does that help?

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about people being judge not by their skin, but by the “content of their character.” While Vick deserves the best defense his money can buy, what character has Vick shown, other than the ability to elude tacklers, that would warrant the NAACP leaping to his defense? I know Atlanta is supposedly the City too busy to hate, but isn’t there something else the NAACP should be doing other than helping a multi-millionaire athlete under investigation for brutally mistreating and killing animals?

I bring up these points not to damage the NAACP, or out of malice, but out of real concern. Is this really the future for this hallowed organization, a Nancy Grace-like existence, appearing at celebrity trials? Have they given up on the ideal of blind justice?

Maybe because of my race, I just don’t understand the situation. But I’d like to, even if the discussion is uncomfortable. Because the alternative, believing that the NAACP no longer cares about justice being blind, is even more uncomfortable.

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