editorial (2005-32)

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Minutemen Indeed

The term minute also means ‘small’

Open Up!

The City County parking garage

The Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen, the state chapter of an organization that has kicked up a fuss over illegal immigration, is spreading a message of thinly veiled racism in its vow to guard the United States against the wave of Mexicans crossing the border to work here.

The Tennessee group, which has been most active in Morristown, is led, paradoxically enough, by Carl “Two Feathers” Whittaker, who claims Native American heritage, has run for governor as an independent, and says he is running again next year, perhaps as a Republican.

Perhaps it isn’t such an anomaly, as Native Americans were driven aside by immigrants they did not invite for more than 400 years, but it still seems odd, especially when other Native American activists are sticking up for the newest immigrants.

The Minutemen movement, which began in the Southwest and has spread to nearly half the nation’s states, adopted its name from that taken up by the patriots who began the American Revolution.

Another paradox lies therein. The original Minutemen, indeed all of the fathers of this country, were either extra-legal immigrants or the descendants of such immigrants.

The modern-day Minutemen say they are patriots, too, bent on forcing the federal government to enforce immigration law. They claim to be nonviolent and legalistic, rather than racist. The fact that their target community—the people they say they will identify and report as illegal—is Hispanic is incidental, they say.

Given their reported infiltration by white supremacists and even neo-Nazi types, that’s hard to swallow.

Ratting out a group of undocumented workers who happen to be nearly all Latino, by “volunteers” who happen to be nearly all white, rubs us as racism cloaked in law.

The Minutemen movement, and some of the rhetoric that has gone along with it, have been called “disturbing” by the Hamblen County mayor and “racially divisive” by the area’s Chamber of Commerce director. The Minutemen have also been challenged by leaders of the Hispanic community, such as Santos Aguilar, executive director of East Tennessee’s Alianza del Pueblo, a Knoxville-based Latino support organization. Aguilar says the Minutemen, whether they be volunteers or vigilantes, have been “spreading a lot of misinformation and are terrorizing the ethnic community in the area.”

He and a group of other leaders from across East Tennessee, including both Hispanics and Anglos, are speaking at a human-rights rally on the courthouse lawn in Morristown this Saturday at 1 p.m.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to stand in solidarity that all people deserve basic human, civil and labor rights as outlined in the Constitution, and [to] discourage discrimination in our communities, especially against those who are most vulnerable,” the call to rally says.

The Minutemen movement has been characterized by psychologists as driven by insecurity among people who feel they have been victimized by open immigration. The insecure assaulting the rights of the vulnerable, they say. It rings of a Klan mentality. In the name of diversity, let’s put it down. There’s no place in East Tennessee for racist, divisive ugliness.

Malone’s helping to form a group of ordinary citizens under the banner, “Lift the Barrier,” to gain access to the garage that has been closed to all but government employees and other authorized persons for two years out of security concerns.

Good for Carlene. The parking closure has worked a hardship on everyone who needs to do business with city or county agencies, to attend public meetings or to go to court in the building. There is very limited parking for two blocks around the government enclave, and the elderly, infirm or disabled arevirtuallylocked out by this response to the fear of a terrorist attack.

Former Mayor Victor Ashe opposed the closure from the outset, and City Council has twice passed resolutions calling for it to reopen. But the county mayor has balked at the suggestion until now. Mayor Mike Ragsdale has finally agreed to go by the recommendation of a committee he and city Mayor Bill Haslam have appointed to study the question. It has met once and will meet again Aug. 19. County Commission Chairman Scott Moore, an advocate of the reopening and member of the committee says it is expected to report in early September.

Building security is still the issue, and all reasonable efforts should be made to keep it secure. But Homeland Security funds to provide for protection against terrorist attack here have all but dried up, diverted to areas the federal government believes are “at risk” of such attacks.

Our point exactly. Knoxville is not a high-risk community. Let the public use its government buildings. So far, the parking garage security committee’s meetings themselves have been closed to the public. Members of the committee, besides Commissioner Moore, include: City Councilwoman Barbara Pelot, Sheriff Tim Hutchison, Police Chief Sterling Owen IV, Dwight Van De Vate, representing Mayor Ragsdale, and Margie Nichols, representing Mayor Haslam.

Let them, as public servants, know that the public should never have been barred from parking at the center of its government. It’s time to reopen the gates.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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