Racist Messages, Attacks Infect Health Care Debate Rep. David Scott (D-GA) recently went toe-to-toe with a protester at a town hall meeting on health care reform. Since then, Scott, who is black, says his office has received hostile messages from constituents, some of which contain racial epithets.

Racist Messages, Attacks Infect Health Care Debate

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, there's been all manner of yelling and screaming at congressional town hall meetings over the last week. Is it democracy in action, civil disobedience or just a bunch of people showing off for the cameras and being rude? We'll get perspectives on this from a veteran progressive protestor and a conservative who says he disagrees with President Obama on just about everything but thinks this debate should be conducted with more civility. That conversation in just a few minutes.

But, first a perspective from a member of Congress who went toe-to-toe with protestors at one of his town hall meetings. Congressman David Scott's testy exchange with some of the people who attended his town hall in Douglasville, has been widely played on cable. Scott who is African-American also expressed concern about what he said was some of the racial undertones of the debate. And then on Tuesday, Congressman Scott found his office vandalized with a swastika painted over his congressional seal. And Congressman Scott is with us now from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Representative DAVID SCOTT (Democrat, Georgia): Michel, thank you so very much for having me, I'm pleased to be here.

MARTIN: Congressman, let's start at the beginning, because I think the part where you confronted the questioner, or protestor, if you will, has been widely played. But not all the people have heard the beginning of the exchange. So, I'm going to just play that part of it. Here it is.

Dr. BRYAN HILL(ph): Why are you voting for a health care plan…

Unidentified Man #1: Oh…

Dr. HILL: …that is sure not to work in Massachusetts. And why are you going to institute that in the state…

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. David…

Dr. HILL: …(unintelligible) in a nationwide manner?

Unidentified Man #2: …Mr. David.

Rep. SCOTT: Well, I'm not voting on any plan. First of all, I haven't voted on any bill.

Dr. HILL: Are you planning on doing on that?

Rep. SCOTT: I don't know.

MARTIN: This is a - the person on the other end of the exchange was identified himself as Dr. Bryan Hill. And then here's your response. We can play that for you as well. This is just a something that a lot of people will have heard, but for those who have not, this is a little later in the conversation. It's a couple of minutes later and here it is.

(Soundbite of town hall meeting)

Rep. SCOTT: These are people, who live in the 13th Congressional District, who vote in this district. That's who I've got to respond to. Okay? Right, all right.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Rep. SCOTT: That's everybody with different opinions. So, what you've got to understand is, those of you are here, who have taken and came and hijacked this event that we're dealing with here…

(Soundbite of crowd chattering)

Rep. SCOTT: …this is not a health care event. You've played the choice to come here.

MARTIN: So, Congressman Scott, just talk to me about how you feel about this? First of all, what is it that bothers you most? Is it the feeling that people kind of come at you like you're wrong, until you prove to me that you're right? Or is it you feel that outsiders are taking over this issue, who really aren't from your district? What is it that pushed your buttons in this exchange?

Rep. SCOTT: Because of this Ms. Martin, that meeting was not David Scott's meeting. That was a meeting in Douglasville, Georgia, that was put together by the leaders in Douglasville, and the Mayor and the City Manager, and the citizens of Douglasville because there it will be a six lane new highway that's going through that community. They worked hard to put that meeting together. It was not for health care. It was not David Scott's town hall meeting.

And they - this road is going through a predominantly African-American community, will destroy 68 homes and businesses. Goes through a tunnel, goes up into a shopping center, destroys a shopping center, and in that shopping center businesses are owned by Hispanics. Now, they've worked hard because the African-American community - 80 percent of all of the homes and businesses that would be affected are owned by African-Americans - they wanted to get some assurances.

I've been able to assist to get $80 million to do this road. They're willing to have their neighborhoods disrupted, but they wanted assurances, that they would not be disenfranchised. All too often when you have these kinds of things, obtrusive things coming into African-American communities, they get shafted. Well, they called on me to come down and give them some comfort. We set up a whole meeting. I brought all the transportation people in there. There were senior citizens there wanting to know what's going to happen to them - their schools, their churches, their fire stations…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Rep. SCOTT: …what's going to happen here?


Rep. SCOTT: Who is going to give me the appraisal for my home?


Rep. SCOTT: So, my point is this…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Rep. SCOTT: …my point is this. This was their meeting. And when you hear me on that tape saying look, if you want a meeting with me, I'll set it up. I've got a health care event for this Saturday. They didn't want that.


Rep. SCOTT: When I got of…

MARTIN: …So, what do you think it's about? What you think it's all about? And I do also hear you kind of highlighting the race of the constituents who you feel we're shut of this. How is race a part of this?

Rep. SCOTT: Well, race is a part of this because, first of all, this is a - and I would like to get your email, so I can send you this. These are things I've been getting in the mail. First is a picture of Obama painted up to look like the clown from Batman, the Joker, from Batman. On his forehead is a sickle. Underneath it is said, death to all Marxists, foreign and domestic. You know, where that's getting at, from the (unintelligible) reference. Then it says, to nigger David Scott. You were, you are, and you shall forever be nothing but a nigger.


Rep. SCOTT: …The Ethiopian cannot make himself white - taken from Euripides. And then, here's another letter: Congressman David Scott, regarding the government health care legislation. First, you are a member of the Congressional bank caucus. You're a racist, because whites don't have membership. Secondly, you should not be re-elected next year. You're going down to defeat and any of your colored constituents ain't going to stop it.

MARTIN: I see…

Rep. SCOTT: The folks are not going to stand for Obama socialized medicine, even though negroes refuse to stand up on their own feet. Now, let me tell you something and then…

MARTIN: So, what do you think it's all about? What do you think…

Rep. SCOTT: Well…

MARTIN: …this really is. You don't think this is about health care?

Rep. SCOTT: No, there's something else, bubbling up over here.

MARTIN: What do you think it is?

Rep. SCOTT: When you've people making claims, I want my America back, they weren't saying that before. Racism, unfortunately, is a part of the fabric of America's society. Whenever it raises its ugly head, it must be crushed. When we must make a commitment not to allow racism, or swastikas, or any of this stuff that is coming in this debate, to win. The people of this country deserve a civil debate. Health care is the most cost - it's the most pressing issue we're facing.

And if we do not address it, we're going in a very, very terrible direction. With 14,600 of us losing health insurance everyday, we've got no choice to it. Now my whole point is this, yes race - race plays so much in everything we do. But it's not everybody. We have just come through an extraordinary period that represents the true greatness of America when we elected, for the first time, an African-American as president of United States. So this is not an overwhelming thing. But this is so much a part of the culture that it raises here. So, we've to look at that…

MARTIN: Well, let me just stop you for a…

Rep. SCOTT: …and understand that this driving it in the wrong direction.

MARTIN: I'm sorry to say. But, you know, Senator Arlen Specter is white…

Rep. SCOTT: Yes.

MARTIN: Senator Claire McCaskill is white. They also had experiences like -Lloyd Dogget is white, Congressman Lloyd Dogget from Texas, they also had similar experiences with people coming to their town hall meetings. So, is…

Rep. SCOTT: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: …your view that the undertone here is it because President Obama is that sort of advancing this plan, that there's - this is stimulating racial resentment or what? What's your take on that?

Rep. SCOTT: I think quite honestly, obviously, from what I've just read to you and I'll send to you. And quite obviously, were these people protestors came to this meeting, were this African-American community in Douglasville is so impacted with 80 percent of their homes. They didn't care about that. They didn't care of them having another direction - a meeting. All they cared about was coming and making a confrontation and disrupting somebody else's meeting to push this.

And not answered in any kind of question civilly, they were shouting, they were moving - if you look at the whole tape, this is what was happening. And I want to say one other thing, because it's very important. But, that tape has gone all across the country, probably all across the world. And I say if you're going to judge David Scott, judge him right.

And I hope you will explain to people that this was what that meeting was about. And I was standing up for my constituents in Douglasville who were being hijacked to talk about something else when I have a health care event that's on every Web site, TV, radio stations, promoting it for the last two weeks - right here in the district. So, that is very, very important to get out.


Rep. SCOTT: But, (unintelligible)…

MARTIN: (unintelligible) we're delighted that you're able to join us too…

Rep. SCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: …to hear your perspective on this.

Rep. SCOTT: But Michel, this is the point. The reporter was not even there that did that story. Their cameras were not there. These people, who were protesting me, went to Channel 11 and they told them that I lost my temper at a health care meeting in my constituency. She went and took that whole film, it was four hours, from Douglasville, and sat in that studio at XIA11 Alive, and diced and upped that edited so that it looked like, when I was saying, but don't come in here and take advantage of these folks meeting. That's what I was saying. It wasn't in reference to the health care. It was, in fact, a reaction to that.


Rep. SCOTT: But for the reporter to do that - and then they came by and recognized it. If you go up on their Web site on Tuesday, they came by…


Rep. SCOTT: …my office and apologized for that and said that it was out of context.

MARTIN: All right, Congressman, we appreciate you visiting with us, and we're going to move on to our next conversation. We hope we'll speak again. Thank you so much for joining us. Congressman David Scott represents Georgia's 13th Congressional District. He was with us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.

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