John Colson: Hit and Run
July 23, 2010
It’s very interesting to note the things that get people riled up about the stories that we reporters write.
Take the recent pair of tales I cranked out regarding an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) roundup of 30 alleged gangbangers and their associates, with a follow-up story about one man who is not a gang member, drug dealer or illegal alien, but was roughed up and nearly rounded up anyway.
The comments to the first story (they can be viewed at postindependent.com) were dominated by congratulatory expressions of gratitude to the law enforcement agencies involved in the roundup, and hopeful encouragement for more such future endeavors on the part of cops and agents throughout the state.
Okay for that. I get it that many people are sick and tired of the illegal-immigrant crisis in the U.S. and eager to see any and all such scofflaws in brown skin rounded up and shipped back home.
Then there was the follow-up, about a 24-year-old Hispanic immigrant who was here legally, but who had dallied in the drug culture and been busted and punished for it, then was confronted by ICE agents at his front door in Carbondale. The import here is that the law apparently took the attitude that, once a criminal always a criminal, and that the man should be sent back where he came from regardless of whether he paid for his crimes and was trying to go straight.
The comments attached to this story, by and large, chastised the paper and me for having done the story at all, presuming that the young man was, in his heart, a gangbanger, a drug pusher, an illegal alien and a menace to society.
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Several commentators essentially accused me of being a mollycoddler of creeps and thugs, and gave no credence at all to the young man’s protestations that he had reformed his life and was trying to be a good citizen.
They also seemed to assume that the law can do no wrong, although we all know that this only holds true as long as the law is acting in a way that confirms whatever preconceptions, biases and prejudices the commenter happens to hold. If the law gets crosswise of their world view, the screams of protest are quick and loud. Witness the reactions to any attempted national legislation aimed at smoothing the way for immigrants to become legal citizens, regardless of how they got here.
Okay for that, too … I guess. Some people like to hold onto their hate like it’s gold in a vault, which is as much a part of our national social fabric as any other outlook.
But problems arise when too broad a brush is used to paint all those of Hispanic descent as, in their hearts if not in fact, criminals and violators of our tortured and conflicting immigration laws. The plain truth is that most of those who have come here from national chaos south of the Rio Grande are law-abiding, hard-working, family-oriented contributors to the national society.
But they – let’s limit this to Hispanics for the sake of a simplified discussion – are living under a cloud of suspicion and hate that was unreasonable in its inception and is evil in its evolution. Even those who are here legally and productively tend to shrink away from anyone associated with government and the law, when they hear about the kind of thing that happened to the aforementioned 24-year old man.
Once that atmosphere of distrust takes root, it’s hard to eradicate. And the law is a juggernaut that, once aroused and headed in a certain direction, just rolls over anyone in its way, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Not exactly a promising blend of sentiments.
To those who complain, knee-jerk fashion, about our coverage of this conflict between a man and the law, I have to ask – what if it had been you? What if you were trying to live your life, keep things together, and all of a sudden the cops came and pulled you out of your house for something you hadn’t done. And what if this happened in violation of the immigration agents’ own authority, as was the case with this legal citizen holding a U.S. passport?
How would you feel then?