Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Silence Begets Silence

The program's host shares her insights about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's alleged indiscretions, and what the scandal can teach us about the dangers of loyalty.

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I have one more word about speaking out. If you read our blog on Friday, then you know that executive producer Marie Nelson and I skipped out of town after the program on Friday to head to Detroit, where we were honored by Wayne State University's Journalism Department. It was nice to get an award, but the really great thing, frankly, is getting out of the office. You see things differently when you get out from behind the mic. And one of the things that struck me was how pained the people we met were about what's happening in their city. From a distance, it's easy to joke about Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the scandal over his alleged affair with his erstwhile chief-of-staff. It's serious stuff, but you've got to admit that the details are so scandalous and tacky that the situation lends itself to ridicule. He and she are accused of having motivated the firing of several police offers, in part, to cover up their affair, and then lying to the courts, the city council and everybody else to maintain the cover-up.

Both Kilpatrick and the former aid are contesting the serious charges against them, which they have every right to do. So, it's entirely appropriate to suspend judgment about the merits of the case until the matter is decided by the courts. But what I'm interested in is how this personal mess is somehow caught up with racial politics, and that means, it's caught up with history. And also what struck me is how the history seems to have caused very many people to get confused about to whom their loyalty was owed.

Can I just tell you? This is not just a Detroit problem. All around the world, as we speak, suffering is being caused because of misplaced loyalties. Those who are placing loyalty to clan above country. Loyalty to regime above the body politic and loyalty to individuals over community. What's just as bad is that this is rarely a case of real moral blindness. People see what's going on and they know it's wrong, but they choose not to speak up or they try to speak up, but they are silenced by ridicule, by social pressure, and in some parts of the world, of course, by violence.

Here in this country, in this era, we are blessedly free of violence retribution for resisting the opinion of the crowd, but we are not free from social pressure of being ostracized, or professional penalty. Some are more vulnerable than others. Certainly those who have faced a history of being marginalized because of race or religion or some other quality are more likely to rally around their own, even when they're wrong. But, at some point, wrong is wrong. Chickens do come home to roost. ..TEXT: In my experience, that Edmund Burke adage is true - all that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for good men to do nothing. I bet you see this yourself every day. Great ideas die because the quiet people who have them don't speak up. Neighborhoods fall apart because good people won't tell the truth about the horrible behavior next door. Great candidates lose because thoughtful people check out of the process, because they decide they don't want to be bothered. It's all just too hard. It's easier to go along, to get along, and that's why speaking up matters.

It matters because when you speak up, you often find out that you are not the only one, that you are not crazy. That the proof of justice is not the loudest voice, or whoever has the loudest megaphone. So that's why when we say blog it out, we mean it, because every voice really does count.

(Soundbite of song, "Ease on Down the Road)

Come on, cause there maybe times When you think you lost your mind...

MARTIN: Just ahead, 30 years ago, Diana Ross and Quincy Jones brought "The Wiz" to the big screen.

(Soundbite of song, "Ease On Down The Road")

And the steps you're takin Leave you three, four steps behind But the road youre walking Might be long sometimes You just keep on steppin And youll just be fine, yeah

Ease on down, ease on down the road

MARTIN: Now a group of talented high school students bring that story to the small stage. We ease on down the road with the leaders of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. That's next on Tell Me More.

(Soundbite of song, "Ease On Down The Road")

Ease on down, ease on down the road Come on, ease on down Ease on down the road Dont you carry nothing That might be a load Come on, ease on down Ease on down the road


I'm Michel Martin and you are listening to Tell Me More from NPR News.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues