April Editorial Winner

Despicable swastika still freedom of expression
Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah Daily Press

Last Friday, the Press received several phone calls, emails and texts from alarmed readers who had seen a man walking around town wearing a swastika armband. Photos were shared on social media, and astonishment was expressed.

At this point, no one knows his identity. He has been described as possibly an older teen. He may or may not be a local resident, but his appearance in the wake of the anti-Semitic and anti-black graffiti on monuments and structures in Norman and Oklahoma City can’t be a coincidence.

It was interesting to observe the outrage this behavior sparked locally. Some threatened to give him a good, old-fashioned Cherokee County “butt-whoopin’” if they could catch up to him. Others said his message of hate freaked them out, and they hoped never to get near him. A few even suggested he be arrested for displaying what became many decades ago an international symbol of hate.

But as offensive as this young man’s public display may have been, he didn’t harm another individual or property – as least, not as far as anyone knows. That could change, if law enforcement agencies get any reports – and as of this writing, they hadn’t. Though people like him bear watching, we can only hope he’s a pathetic, immature boy desperate for attention. And if his “15 minutes of fame” comes through aligning himself with the despicable Nazis rather than notable personal achievement, so be it.

There can be no doubt that rhetoric spewing from this nation’s leaders has exacerbated hate crimes and unleashed overt displays of bigotry like this country hasn’t seen in years. The haters feel emboldened, and it will be up to decent members of society – true patriots – to marginalize them. That may require kicking to the curb politicians who seem to appease them; it will also mean ensuring the miscreants pay the price when they cross the line. But it cannot mean stripping them of their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. Whatever the rest of us might think, this young man has the right to wear the disgusting armband, as long as he understands his liberty stops at the end of society’s proverbial nose. Until he commits a crime, he can offend the sensibilities of every person of goodwill, and we can’t stop him.

Nor should we. Once we try, the First Amendment becomes a slippery slope for the rest of us. Imagine if citizens can no longer openly broadcast their distaste for certain politicians and their beliefs. Consider what would happen if those politicians began to make good on threats to openly punish media outlets for their constitutionally guaranteed right to fair comment and criticism. It may seem fine to some if society tamps down dissent against politicians they support. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot, and they themselves are silenced for voicing contempt for opponents?

Neither the left nor the right is free from hypocrisy, but there are better ways to deal with kids like this than censorship. Spurning, shunning and ignoring provocateurs can often do the trick. So can open denigration, but that requires caution, because sometimes, these folks are packing. Let’s hope this humanoid goes away before any harm is done.

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