Roundtable: Freedom Towers Security, Mexican Stamp

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Topics for the roundtable include security at the Freedom Towers and a "racially offensive" Mexican stamp. Ed Gordon is joined by George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Boston University economics professor Glenn C. Loury; and Callie Crossley, commentator for the Boston TV show Beat the Press.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's roundtable, Freedom Towers security, a racially offensive Mexican postage stamp, and alleged car thieves as victims of a hate crime. Joining us from member station WGBH in Boston are Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Boston University, and Callie Crossley, a social and cultural commentator on the television show there, "Beat the Press." And from member station WCLK in Atlanta, George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

All right, folks, it seems we have started all over again. If you rewind 20 years ago, you see the same headlines, and that's a hate crime coming out of Howard Beach, New York--a section of Queens there. A white teen-ager has been charged today for allegedly beating a black man with a baseball bat in Howard Beach. Here's the question and the rub that's different than 20 years ago, and that is, allegedly, the black youths that were there at Howard Beach are admittedly suggesting they were there to possibly steal a vehicle. They say that there were too many people around; therefore, they decided not to. And an altercation ensued at that point.

Does this, George Curry, change the implication of hate crime at all if you can make the argument that these white you--the white youth were simply, quote, "protecting their ground"?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor in Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): Well, first of all, the white youth have no authorization to go out and beat people with a baseball bat. The fact is, even though these guys admit that they have criminal intent, they had not create--had not committed any crime at that point. They were--and so the point is--point of fact, they had not committed a crime. They are free to walk any street they want to at any time of the night or day. And this happened just couple of blocks from what happened before when the kid's car had broken down and he got beaten with a baseball bat. Vigilante groups have no place in our society, and you don't know what somebody was going to do or not going to do. And either way, that's not your business. If you think somebody's about to commit a crime or have committed a crime, then you call the authorities.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Social and Cultural Commentator, "Beat the Press"): I agree.

GORDON: Callie?

Ms. CROSSLEY: It doesn't matter what they said they were going to do. It--the question was--and even if they had done it, actually, they did not deserve being beaten to death on the street by people who do not have any authority, as George has so aptly put it. I mean, I think for me, though, it's just more shocking to hear that 20 years later we're visiting this scene. I understand that some of the elected officials and Reverend Al Sharpton--and you'll recall that this is really where Reverend Al Sharpton made his national name, was talking about and being out in front on the original Howard Beach incident. But to--later on, or soon they're all going to make some comment about what has happened now, 20 years later. And it just seems to me that I don't know how this ever ends. It's just cyclical. It just keeps coming back, and why? I--it's sad.

GORDON: Glenn, does it change, again, the idea of how this occurred--the fact that the young man, 19, who's confessed to the attack on Wednesday, has had previous altercations, some of them believed to be racial? Right after 9/11, he was to have--alleged to have beaten a man who was wearing a turban. That being said, there are discussions here in New York as to whether or not--even though the N-word was used--whether this constitutes a, quote, "hate crime."

Professor GLENN LOURY (Professor of Economics, Boston University): Well, it does appear, at least on the surface, to have been racially motivated. On the other hand, the interaction between vigilante justice, where guys with baseball bats beat up on young blacks because they think they may be criminals--and in this case perhaps think so correctly--on the one hand, and hate crime behavior, which is you beat up on somebody because you hate them because they're black--that line is kind of blurry here, isn't it? I mean, these guys have no justification for what they did--absolutely no justification for what they did. But I sometimes have difficulty with the concept of a hate crime because it requires us to dissect what the motives of the people are. In this case, the motives would appear to be defending our territory against the N-word, but also defending our territory against people who we think are coming in to do harm to our people. Again, no justification for what they did, but I could see some people wondering about whether or not you need to put `hate crime' on top of simple assault. They assaulted somebody. They had no right to hit these people, period.

Mr. CURRY: OK...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, it's definitely a race crime...

Mr. CURRY: ...well, that's a different issue. The important thing here is that it is racial in a sense that he uttered a racial epithet. And, also, one of them said, `This is what you get when you want to rob white boys.'

Prof. LOURY: I agree with you, George. It is racial. I agree with you. But it's also racial sometimes--Is it not?--when kids from Harlem or Brooklyn who are black go over into a neighborhood which is mostly white looking for a car to steal or looking for somebody to rob. And all I'm saying is that when we get into the business of putting on top of the obvious crime this additional crime that bears on the racial intent of it, we get into a complex and ambiguous area, and I can see that some people might have difficulty with it.

GORDON: Callie...

Mr. CURRY: Well, but the problem here is...

GORDON: ...if the N-word...

Mr. CURRY: crime was committed...

GORDON: Callie, if the N-word is not used here...

Mr. CURRY: No crime was committed.

GORDON: If the N-word is not used here and everything else remains the same, do you then call this a hate crime?

Mr. CURRY: The...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I would...

Mr. CURRY: ...answer's still yes, Ed, because the...


Mr. CURRY: ...ulti--listen, don't neglect what they said.

Ms. CROSSLEY: OK, George!

Mr. CURRY: They said they were going to ro--they thought they were going to rob white boys. That's a direct quote from them.

Ms. CROSSLEY: OK, if that's the original intent...

GORDON: OK, take that out too, George.

Mr. CURRY: If...

GORDON: Take those two...

Mr. CURRY: ...they never used the N-word.

GORDON: Take those two phrases out. Everything else remains the same, Callie.


GORDON: Is this a hate crime?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes. I still say it is because, first of all, it's based on a negative assumption about race. They, it seemed to the white young men, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. So that justified--because they hadn't done anything, that justified their being beat up on. So to me, the extrapolation of a race crime is a hate crime because you've made some assumptions, negatively, about someone's race and where they should be at that time based on their race.

GORDON: Same...

Mr. CURRY: So I would say yes.

GORDON: Same question to you, George Curry. Take both of those out--the N-word and the idea of the `white boy' phraseology there. Take those out. Does it become--does it stay a hate crime at that point?

Mr. CURRY: Yes, because these people were not attacked because they were white. They were attacked because they were in, quote, "their neighborhood at 3 in the morning." And so even if they didn't utter it I would think it would still qualify.

GORDON: OK. All right, let's move our attention to something that has raised the ire of many--and here again race and the implication of it plays a big role--and that's a postage stamp of a black cartoon character, and obviously a popular one in Mexico based on the fact that it's getting its own postage stamp--and this is of an exaggerated black cartoon character there. It's drawn with exaggerated features: thick lips, wide eyes. I think we all know and have seen those kinds of characters. The appearance of this character's speech and mannerisms typically draws ridicule from white characters in the comic book it is famous for. That being said, there's a lot of question as to whether or not this should be allowed on a postage stamp and OK'ed.

The White House has suggested that they have to leave up to the Mexican government the ability to determine what they will issue as a postage stamp, but they have suggested that racial intolerance coming from anyplace is incorrect. Mexican officials in turn have said, `Hey, this is no different than Speedy Gonzales and characters like that of Mexican descent' that have been made, quote, "fun of over the years," but no real racial intent there.


Prof. LOURY: Well, I think the White House, for a change, gets this one about right. It is an internal matter what the Mexicans put on their postage stamps, and of course, it is offensive and there's no place for it in our time and day for that kind of image. On the other hand, I would note that given our history here--where these images, as we all know, were very widely used and very much a part of American culture--one might be able to understand where this comes from in Mexican society.

And I also want to observe that not that long ago, president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, made some comment--I'm not going to be able to quote him verbatim--about Mexican workers taking jobs that even blacks here in the United States wouldn't take. It's pretty clear where African-Americans stand in the kind of cultural assessment of many people in Mexico. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at this. But it's not appropriate, but it is their business what they do on their stamps.

GORDON: Callie...


GORDON: ...this brings up an interesting point, and Glenn beats me to it, and that's the idea that this coupled with the recent statements by Vicente Fox does bring new light to a question of how African-Americans are perceived in that part of the world.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, this is the trip that--this is the ki--the incident that I think should have sparked a trip by Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I'm not sure that the comment was--that Vicente Fox made earlier was worthy of a trip, but this seems to me to be such. I mean, here's the point. We have exported our racism all around the world. I have in my possession that I--it's something I got from a black memorabilia show years ago--a cup and saucer from Italy with the same kind of images on it. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that, you know, that has been going around--this feels like a show that everything old is new again--for years and years and years, and seems deeply rooted in the minds of, and obviously in the institutions of some countries that are outside of the United States, because we've exported it. But I think that the White House was right in saying this should not be tolerated and making a comment on it. And I would hope that Mexico--and particularly Vicente Fox, given his most recent statements--would take a stand against this.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I agree with you, Callie, that--I am--I wasn't all that upset over his--Fox's earlier statement because I think that there was an overemphasis on the word `even.' And I--but I am upset about this. But it is made in the USA. This is an image that was exported, exploited and exported to other countries. And just when--as black soldiers fought abroad, the US white soldiers was telling them that we had tails and this kind of thing. It's the same old images that was created here, and it doesn't--it shouldn't be a surprise that the rest of the world are taking what started right here at home. And even--but let's be fair about it--even some African-Americans now collect these kind of images, and I just--I have no use for them at all, period.

GORDON: Well, that brings me to my point, and I was going to ask Callie: You mentioned that you have this. Do you collect these images?

Ms. CROSSLEY: No, I--you know, at one time I thought it was an interesting way to be reminded of some of the horrors around the world, so I have a few of them. And particularly, this one struck me because it reminded me how far-reaching this--the kinds of racism that wee--that was homegrown--had gone. And I found it real shocking that this was out there. So this doesn't surprise me that a stamp that would be created in this image. But what surprises me, I suppose, is that in these days and times--and, particularly, coming on the heels of his most recent comment--that this would be happening. I would hope that because we're--this country is going to have many more interactions with Mexico--that some of the officials there--the government, Vicente Fox, somebody would come out and say, you know, `This is perhaps not the time nor the place for us to be supporting this.'

Prof. LOURY: Just one more comment, Ed. You know, Vicente Fox is basically lobbying us to change our immigration laws to make it easier for people to get across that border. I think that that's the humane thing for us to do. Look at the contempt that they show to an important part of the American electorate. Evidently, in their eyes we don't count politically in this country because they can afford to offend us gratuitously without a calculation that that's going to undermine their ability to get done what they want to get done in the United States policy. And that's a sign of at least our perception of weakness. I talk about African-Americans within the larger American political community. We're perceived as not counting.

Ms. CROSSLEY: And I also think one other thing, if I may, Ed, at a time when someone like Antonio Villaraigosa is working very hard to bridge racial coalitions among Mexican-Americans and being proud of his heritage and that community's heritage and reaching across to African-Americans--I mean, this just--this is bad business.

Mr. CURRY: But it can be used--Jesse Jackson for one said, you know, one thing--and I agree--`We must work on these coalitions, particularly between Latinos and African-Americans.'


Mr. CURRY: Maybe this is one thing that maybe ought to be at the top of the agenda--some better and more sensitivity, and it can start with these postage stamps and move forward and use it for that.

GORDON: Let me ask you all this question. Take it outside of Mexico--and with the burgeoning importance, frankly, and popularity of rap and some of the images that some suggest reflect and depict those that we've tried to run away from--Does this speak to a bigger picture, though?--and that's the picture of how African-Americans are seen throughout the world, that there is still this kind of bucking eyes, shuffling sense of that is what African-Americans are.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Absolutely.

Mr. CURRY: I don't think we're viewed--I don't agree with you. I don't think we are necessarily viewed that way, but I think we are victims of the American image of us and what they--the stereotypes that are portrayed right here at home. You don't have to leave this country--right here at home in terms of the coverage we get and what's likely to covered. And so I think that all plays into it. The rap plays into it as well. And we do not get a diverse depiction in our own US media, so therefore we shouldn't be surprised if we don't get the same thing abroad.

Mr. CURRY: Well, and you also know that when you travel abroad, I mean, you spend most of your time interacting with people who come--having just met for the first time, perhaps, an African-American tourist--some of the stereotypes that have been exported. So it's out there, and it's around the world.

Prof. LOURY: But it's complicated. I mean, we're also celebrated. You know, there's the Oprah Winfrey, there's the Michael Jordan, there's the Muhammad Ali, there's the Colin Powell. I think--I mean, I think--in my experience traveling abroad, African-Americans are perceived not only in this negative light, but also as a source of, you know, cultural vitality and innovation in the American society...

GORDON: Do you think people...

Prof. LOURY: ...something that's...

GORDON: ...see them as the anomaly? I mean, they are the...


GORDON: ...anomaly, obviously, just in societal numbers, period. But do you think people see them as an anomaly as they look at African-Americans?

Prof. LOURY: See successful African-Americans...

Mr. CURRY: Well, I don't agree with that, but I'll tell you what. Now while we talk about the stereotypes, there's another side of that. They also see the civil rights struggle...

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's true.

Mr. CURRY: being a model around the world.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's true.

Mr. CURRY: And so they pattern themselves after that. You see that even with the women's movement here in this country. And so while you may have that stereotype, you already see struggles in countries abroad--well, of course they're abroad--in other countries where they pattern themselves after us. So it's not all bad.

Mr. CURRY: Well, that's absolutely correct.

Prof. LOURY: That's what I'm saying.

GORDON: All right, guys, well with only a minute 30, we really can't get to the other topics because by the time I ask the question that would give you about 10 seconds each. So rather than do that, I'm going to have Angie get some music ready for us as we play ourselves out, and wish the three of the you--Callie Crossley, George Curry and Glenn Loury--a very safe and happy Fourth of July. This is what we call stretching, folks. All right.

Prof. LOURY: All right.

GORDON: Thanks, guys.

Mr. CURRY: You did a good job, Ed.

GORDON: Appreciate it.


GORDON: Enjoy that...


GORDON: Enjoy that barbecue.

Prof. LOURY: Still working on it.

Mr. CURRY: I ain't eating no barbecue.

GORDON: That's another stereotype, Yeah, I know.

Prof. LOURY: Yeah!

GORDON: All right, coming up, a conversation with the father who heads the activist group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the happy feelings of the band Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.

(Soundbite of "We Are One")

MAZE featuring FRANKIE BEVERLY: (Singing) No matter what we do, we are one. Love will see us through. We are one. And that's the way it is. We are one. Oh! Sometimes I feel that we try and make each other sad. I don't know why. The things we do, how we make each other feel so bad. We've got so much, we could all be having so much fun. Oh-ho-ho-ho.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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