Intent

When considering someone’s bullshit, there’s always the “intent” counter-argument.  Like Pete Kotz today is all “Oh, sure, it looks bad for the sheriff to go speak to a white supremacist group, but he’s not really a racist.  He’s just rounding up brown people in order to appeal to his racist constituency.  Totally different.”  So, you can round up brown people specifically because they’re brown and do it to appeal to racists, but still not be racist?  Okay, fine.  Maybe you’re not racist, but your actions certainly are.

You can imagine other instances.  But it always comes down to “We should try to understand what’s in a person’s heart before complaining about his or her behavior, because maybe he or she really didn’t mean in the way it came across.”

If you know me in person, you know why I have no tolerance for the “intent” argument.  I was terrorized for years by a guy who would break into my house to leave me things, who would beat up any guy who talked to me, and threw me into a wall for talking to a guy friend, who screamed at my mother about what a whore I was, and who made the world’s weirdest attempt to rape me.  And, with the exception of my dear friend, Shug, every single person I complained to–the police, my parents, teachers, even his own girlfriend–said, “He doesn’t mean anything by it.  He just really likes you and has an awkward way of showing it.  Just try to see things from his perspective.”  The teacher who saw him throw me into a wall said I should just date him, that dating him would stop his aggression.  Even when I went to college, he would still occasionally skulk around my campus.  By that point, I didn’t even bother to complain.  His intentions trumped my terror and my right to feel safe.

I bring this all up because I want to be clear where I’m coming from.  In my personal experience, “intent” is a bullshit way for people who do know better to be excused by people who don’t want to face up to the problems in their midst.  Maybe that’s not always true.  Maybe I’m jaded by what happened to me.

But it has been my experience that the “intent” argument is made by people who do not want to face up to the terribleness of a situation, especially if that terribleness is perpetuated by someone they like.

Or by ourselves.  There’s been plenty of bullshit I’ve pulled that I justified because “my intentions were good.”  But so what?  People still got hurt.  The fact that I didn’t mean to only goes towards making my apologies carry more weight, not towards excusing my actions–and letting me continue on with them.

So, who cares what Hall’s intentions are?  The result of the program he’s instituted is completely foreseeable.  If you’re targeting a group–“illegal immigrants” in this case–that your constituency is convince is composed mostly of brown people, you’re going to single out brown people, because of their race, to check their immigration status, because that’s what the people who voted for you expect when you institute such a program.

That’s one reason the program never should have been implimented in the first place.  It’s racist.  In order for the people who vote for you to feel like it’s being effective, it has to target brown people, single out brown people.

It doesn’t matter if Hall himself is not personally racist, the program, in order for the public to feel it’s being effective, has to be.  And the level of self-delusion a person such as Sheriff Hall has to have to convince himself that the people who are interested in hearing him talk about the 287(g) program are just interested in “solving the problem of illegal immigration” and not anxious about the influx of non-white, non-English speaking people in our city is staggering.

And yet, we see in his letter to the City Council that this is exactly what he expects us to and may even believe himself.

He writes

At no time before, during, or after did I have any idea what views this organization supported. Keep in mind, I was speaking about the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office immigration program during this meeting – there was never any discussion of their purpose or mission.

This is a man who is supposed to be one of our top law enforcement officers and he wants us (and himself) to believe that it’s too much to ask to connect the dots between a “Council of Conservative Citizens,” his 287(g) program, and racism?

Daron Hall, let me be clear, THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORTERS OF YOUR PROGRAM ARE RACISTS.  Period.  The end.  If a group asks you to come speak about 287(g) and they seem excited about it, you should be suspicious that they are racists. Your policies caused a pregnant woman to be shackled to a hospital bed while she was in labor.  Reports said that the nurses who attended her were so upset by her treatment that they were crying.  Let me repeat, your policies are so draconian you can make nurses cry.  Nurses!  Who see sick and dying people every day.  Your policies towards Hispanics in this city suck.

287(g) is not nor has it ever been value-neutral.  It has always been about terrorizing the Spanish-speaking population of Nashville.  Fine, I believe that Hall might not intend it that way.  He may believe his intentions are good.  But the program is terrorizing Spanish-speaking Nashvillians and it’s emboldening and pleasing racists.  So who cares what the intentions are?  The effects are terrible.

And did Hall send a letter to the community organizations and churches and media in the community most affected by his terrible policies apologizing to them for providing an evening’s entertainment to a group of people who actively wish that community ill?

I mean, really.

If there was any trust between the Hispanic community in Nashville and the Sheriff’s department, it’s got to be ruined now.

And I’d like to hear from the Sheriff what he’s going to do to repair it.  I don’t think “Oh, I won’t talk to racist groups again.  I promise.” is exactly going to cut it.

21 thoughts on “Intent

  1. Pingback: The Road To Racism : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  2. “I didn’t intend to kill him” gets you less jail time; it doesn’t make the murder victim less dead. (Or, to put it another way, intent matters a hell of a lot more to the perp than to the victim.)

  3. Well … how stupid is he? Because I can believe that a stupid person could be invited to address the group, not investigate it ahead of time, and in the absence of recognizably racist posters, armbands, slogans, or whatever, not pick up that this group (out of all the groups he has addressed about the program) has an agenda that he’s furthering but that he wouldn’t like to hear spoken aloud (which would be why, of course, they didn’t speak it aloud in front of him).

    But mostly, I think of George Wallace. Who started his political life as a progressive, but who realized (after losing an early election to an opponent who called him a n*****-lover or soft on crime or something like that) that being anti-black was the way to get votes. So he did. And he pursued a lot of policies that caused a lot of people a lot of harm, including causing some people to end up dead. At the end of his life, when he repented and went around asking for forgiveness, he didn’t say, “oh, but I didn’t really mean it in my heart.” No, he said “I knew better than that, but I did it anyway.” IMO (and, evidently, as he came to see it), knowing better and doing it anyway just made things worse. Or, in other words, what B said.

  4. I have trouble with that, too. But, even if… Why is the Sheriff speaking to any group he hasn’t vetted beforehand? It takes two seconds to google them and see that they’re described as white supremacist and neo-confederate, often by folks who like them!

  5. Aunt B: you’re right on. And right. And I’m really sorry you had to face such horrible harassment on your own. Friends don’t let friends get harassed – or encourage them to date assholes.

  6. White southerners his age probably remember the White Citizens Council (of which the CCC is the successor group) or the League of Conservative Citizens. As Dolphin suggests, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t know and easy to believe that he didn’t care. However, do you guys really have so little for a sheriff to do that he’ll talk to any old group that asks him? Or was there an honorarium that maybe made this engagement worth the hassle in case he was found out?

  7. It was a long time ago, Cassie, thank goodness. But thanks for your kind thoughts.

    Bridgett, he does have so little to do. Before he tried to make himself into a branch of ICE, the Sheriff’s department ran the jail and bulk trash pick-up and that was it as far as I know. Since Nashville is Davidson County, the Metro police do the policing out in the sticks, not the sheriff.

    287(g) is really the only big thing he has, I think. There’s some thought that he talks to everyone about it and touts it as his big success because he has higher political aspirations and needs to look like he’s doing something.

  8. Doesn’t the sheriff’s office serve warrants (summonses, evictions, etc.)? If not, who does? Because as long as there have been warrants in Common Law (i.e. back to the 1150s) it has been sheriffs who executed them. I know I’ve seen a sheriff’s van delivering prisoners to the court building (which goes back to the writ of gaol delivery back when).

  9. Great post B.
    Yeah, the sheriff’s department does serve warrants and evictions and transport prisoners.
    It’s a shame a video of his speech hasn’t surfaced.

  10. He’s either too nasty or too dumb to live. But I am tickled that the 10th-century institution, the sheriff, is still out there delivering the 12th-century institution, the writ. The creation of both was so ad hoc, it’s lovely that they’ve lasted.

  11. I hate the phrase “I’m not a racist,” because it’s always followed by a “but.” Or it always follows a butt. Either way…

    People who aren’t racist don’t have to make that distinction. If they screw up and offend, they say “I screwed up, and I’m sorry I offended.”

    I had a doctor once who tried to tell me I would have to stop breastfeeding my then 3 month old son for a week while taking a medicine. I told him I couldn’t (#1 He had food allegies, making formula not an option, #2 you can’t stop and start. It doesn’t work that way). He got mad and said “I’m very supportive of breastfeeding!” After doing my own reaseach (and a phonecall to a certified breastfeeding educator), I found out the medication was VERY safe for nursing. I wrote a letter to the company he worked for, the state medical board, AND the doctor. I told them all that, if he was as supportive as he said, he would have found the references needed to give accurate information to nursing mothers. The company apologized. The doctor was too much of a jerk to even acknowledge my offer of the reference book which would have prevented the fiasco

    Intent DOES matter, because intent generally guides actions, and it certainly guides your reactions. If he was so supportive of nursing mothers, he would have accepted the offer of help in order to support.

    If Hall weren’t racist, he’d wonder what made his speech so appealing to racists and maybe learned a lesson or two…

  12. Don’t even get me started on Tracy Moore. I’m actually pleasantly surprised that she seemed to actually be trying to think about this in a way that didn’t involve her trying to get anybody fired.

    Ha. Yes. I hold grudges for ever. I should probably work on that.

    I mean, too, obviously I disagree with Moore about intentions mattering. But the other thing I’m just stunned by is her insistence that Cyrus, growing up in Franklin wouldn’t be that familiar with people who are different than her.

    I mean, let’s just disregard the fact that she’s on a show on the Disney channel and is a major recording star, not some girl trapped in the backwoods of Williamson county, but even if she were, Williamson county isn’t white-only. So, how is growing up there supposed to be some kind of excuse?

    I really just don’t understand situations like this. You do something, you come to discover that it was stupid, you apologize, and you don’t do it again. End of story.

  13. The frustrating part is that she’s a good writer (in my opinion) and her pieces for the Scene have this kind of biting humor that appeals to me. I’m just always wishing she didn’t also come across like she feels only disdainful pity on the people who aren’t as cool as her.

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