published Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Alison Gerber: Shining light on problems is this newspaper’s job

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck last week questioned the Times Free Press’ decision to publish Sheriff Jim Hammond’s comments that he’s seen more fear of crime in the past three years, in part, because we have a black president.

Hammond made the comment in a meeting with reporters and editors about the foundation he formed to raise money for local law enforcement agencies. He said in the last few years he has seen more fear about crime “by far” than at any other time in his long career and that’s what makes the foundation timely. People are so scared that they want him to “arm them tooth and nail” and they want to take “bazookas” to schools to protect children, he said.

Asked why people are scared, he said: “Part of it is [the] first black president. We all see that. We may dance around it, but a lot of people are fearful ...”

On Thursday, Beck dismissed the idea that President Barack Obama can cause fear and insecurity in the Chattanooga area. “It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” the commissioner said.

He also took to task the newspaper for publishing the comments.

“How in the world does a black president have anything to do with crime and safety out here on the street of Chattanooga? It’s insane,” he said. “And for this to go out in the paper and take people further down the road of ignorance and insecurity … I just find it unbelievable that this paper would do this.”

So what’s the alternative? Pretend Hammond didn’t say it? Pretend people don’t feel that way? Stick our fingers in our ears, sing loudly and think about rainbows?

Hammond said the mentality of fear he’s seeing is “an Old South thing,” left over from the days after the Civil War when “carpetbaggers” from the North came down and took advantage of the reeling, damaged South.

Beck’s comments, ironically, were also very Old South, a variation on the old line of thinking: “Let’s just keep crazy grandma in the attic, and always keep the parlor clean so when people drop in everything looks nice, shall we? Let’s just pretend everything is OK and we all get along. If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.”

But we don’t all get along and racism still exists, even 50 years after the peak of the Civil Rights movement. Just last week, a news outlet in Canada turned off comments on crime stories because stories about black suspects “brought out the most vile, repulsive and offensive comments we have ever had on our website,” according to Managing Editor Mike Johnston.

And a racist website called Chimpout — which states that “a black plague is descending upon civilization” and freely tosses around the N-word — linked to the Times Free Press story on Hammond’s comments.

That’s exactly why we ought to talk about race and racial tensions and why we should not be afraid to do so. That’s exactly why the Times Free Press could not look the other way when the sheriff stated not once, but twice, that people fear Obama because he’s black.

Hammond wasn’t saying this was his personal opinion — in fact he said it absolutely was not. “Part of my responsibility is to listen to the heartbeat of the community,” he told commissioners. “And I do sense a lot of fear in our citizens.”

Fear’s never good. But not covering the news would be worse.

In the 1960s, the Birmingham News buried coverage of violent Civil Rights-era protests. Stories about beatings with fire hoses and attack dogs were shoved inside the newspaper and given short attention, mostly blaming the confrontations on lawless “Negroes” and outside agitators.

When 200,000 people marched on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., ran this headline: “Washington is Clean Again with Negro Trash Removed.”

Now those encounters are seen as some of the most pivotal moments in the struggle for black rights.

Newspapers champion the idea of transparency, but that doesn’t just mean keeping an eye on the government. It also means writing about what’s being discussed behind closed doors in local homes, examining the cultural mentality of the community. Our job is also to open those doors and say, “Here’s what people are talking about. Let’s bring it out, discuss it thoughtfully and openly.”

Yes, sometimes what people say or think is distasteful, even reprehensible. But very little will ever change if we cannot discuss the things that divide us.

People are not mushrooms. We don’t do well being fed manure and kept in the dark.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at Listen to Sheriff Hammond’s comments at

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
acerigger said...

"Just last week, a news outlet in North Carolina turned off comments on crime stories because stories about black suspects “brought out the most vile, repulsive and offensive comments we have ever had on our website,” according to Managing Editor Mike Johnston."

Isn't that precisely what caused the TFP to limit comments on certain news articles just a while back? I believe The Tennessean newspaper was forced to do the same also.

Yes Virginia, racism is still alive and well,unfortunately!

March 3, 2013 at 1:40 a.m.
jjmez said...

In his attempt to sugarcoat, Beck is being complicit and guilty for trying to cover up the truth of what Hammond was saying. Hammond was telling the truth. In fact, until they all went undercover {who knows what private or underground websites they're spewing their hate on now) people were openly hostile against the president, and as a result, against blacks in general.

March 3, 2013 at 7:38 a.m.
jesse said...

I am no fan of Jim Hammond but in this situation i think he was merely relaying the feedback he was getting from the public.He's getting a bad rap when it's undeserved on this!

March 3, 2013 at 8:08 a.m.
acerigger said...

"The Friday after President Obama’s first election was the largest ever day for gun sales. Much the same occurred four years later, when the volume of gun sales crashed the NICS (buyer identification system) twice upon his re-election. The FBI processing of nearly 2.8m background checks made November 2012 – the month of the presidential election – gunsellers’ busiest month."

March 3, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
timbo said...

acerigger...and your point is? Half the country thinks Obama sucks. Being black isn't the reason. These evil conservatives seem to like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams, Condolezza Rice, Angela McGlowan, etc. etc. etc. I guess we evil conservatives all hate them too.

99% of people don't like Obama for who he is, not what he is. He is a socialist, government control, know nothing, liar. Being black is the best thing about him.

March 4, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams, Condolezza Rice, Angela McGlowan, etc. etc. etc. I guess we evil conservatives all hate them too.

Those evil conservatives don't like Sowell, Thomas, Steele, Williams, Rice, McGlowan etc. etc. etc. They just all serve a useful purpose for now. When that useful purpose is no longer needed, they'll be like the African-slave catchers who helped to lasso in fellow Africans for transport to the west, only to find themselves chained alongside the very slaves they helped to catch.

March 4, 2013 at 6:37 p.m.
acerigger said...

timbo said..." Half the country thinks Obama sucks. Being black isn't the reason. " Oookay, if you say so. But a house-full of guns won't do a thing to counter a socialist, government control, know nothing, liar. jes'sayin'

March 4, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
fairmon said...

Report the news without fear or favor was the paper's motto at one time. A refreshing thing in today's biased reporting environment. It is not journalism when a reporter or talk show host selects the topic, talks about it from their view with guest to support their opinion. They should not be called "news" reporters or journalist. The Hannity and Ed's show are two examples of attempts to sway viewers to accept their views and ideology. The sad thing is it works.

March 5, 2013 at 6:32 a.m.
Leaf said...

Well said, Ms. Gerber. I'm happy to see the paper taking what I perceive to be a more investigative approach lately.

I must admit I, too, jumped to conclusions regarding Hammond's comments. He was just being honest, though. There are a lot of old white guys who fear change.

March 5, 2013 at 9:20 a.m.
timbo said...

acerigger....You are absolutley wrong. A house full of guns acts as a deterrent for people like Obama not to turn into a totalitarian government. That is what the 2nd amendment is all about. It isn't about hunting or sportsmen or even self protection. It to keep liberal or conservative piss ants from trying to take us over.

March 5, 2013 at 1:17 p.m.
timbo said...

Tirnanog...You are a classic example of someone who thinks like a racist and assumes every one else is a racist like you are. Philosophy of the individual is all that matters to us. Obviously race is more important to you.

You are kind of sad,..really.

March 5, 2013 at 1:18 p.m.
timbo said...


March 5, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.
acerigger said...

timbo ,paranoid much?

Well, just be sure you save that last bullet for yourself when they come for you.

Or,better yet, seek treatment.In the meantime ,I hope you don't hurt any innocent people.You sound kinda dangerous.

March 6, 2013 at 1:13 a.m.
timbo said...

acerigger... Treatment? If you think that some of the weird crap that you liberals come up with is sane, you need the rubber room right next to me.

Delusion is the first symptom of mental illness.

As far as being dangerous, if you think that believing in the constitution is a "threat", you have just proved my point on how valid our concern is for our freedoms.

Your exaggeration of my point just shows how weak your argument is.

Liberals seem to be threatened by the US Constitution...go figure.

March 6, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.
Leaf said...

timbo, seriously, the liberals aren't out to get you. That's pretty much exactly contrary to the liberal mindset.

March 6, 2013 at 10:19 a.m.
acerigger said...

timbo said... "A house full of guns acts as a deterrent for people like Obama not to turn into a totalitarian government. "

Followed by,"Delusion is the first symptom of mental illness. "

Yes Tim,I must agree.

March 6, 2013 at 10:26 a.m.
timbo said...

Leaf & acerigger....I might be using the word "liberal" in the wrong context. Let me be more clear.. I meant that you have a philosophy that increases government dominance and perpetuates the nanny state. Obama is a European style social democrat who doesn't much like the Bill of Rights. These European democracies all have similar constitutions to ours but do not have individual protections. It is all about the tyranny of the majority.

I am mostly libertarian in my views. I don't think I should tell anyone how to live. If you want to be gay, so what? If gay people want to get married, more power to them. If someone wants an abortion, none of my business. If someone want to take drugs, as long as you stay home and leave me alone, go for it.

Now, if someone wants to confiscate my tax dollars and give to someone else, I got a problem with that. If the government wants to subsidize or "invest" in private business picking winners and losers, I have a problem with that. If Obama wants to "manage" the economy, my health care, my private business,...I got a problem with that.

Obama and the democrats/liberals love of luke-warm socialism in Europe, which has strict gun control laws, make me suspicious that what I am being told (that you don't want our guns) is a lie. Your actions and words don't match up.

If that is paranoia, I am just as paranoid as Winston Churchill was about Hitler before WWII. If they had listened to his "paranoia" several million people might be alive today. I see the evidence and I make a decision. Simple as that.

March 6, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.
Leaf said...

If one person calls you paranoid, laugh it off. If two people do, start to wonder, if a whole bunch of people call you paranoid, it must be a vast left wing conspiracy! ;)

Keep stockpiling those guns and ammo, timbo. We're coming to get you.

March 6, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.
timbo said...

Leaf..First of all, I don't care what people like you, acerigger or any other of you pinkos call me. Your opinion is irrelevant.

As far as one of you weenies coming to get me, I am not worried one bit. That is why I have my guns.

March 7, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.
acerigger said...

"pinko"?? I'm a patriotic American,who just happens to not fall for the fear-mongering crap from the right-wing haters.

Sorry about your life,see you in the FEMA

March 7, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
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