Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, October 24, 2003  

Neo-Confederate 'hero' suffers legal setback

Maurice Bessinger, a wealthy South Carolina businessmen who is a hero to neo-Confederates, has learned the hard way that corporate entities can decide for themselves whether they will carry a product -- or not. Bessinger is hailed as a hero in the movement because of his longterm and continuing opposition to racial equality. Like most neo-Confederates, he believes African-Americans are an inferior race.

Barbecue king Maurice Bessinger's lawsuit against grocery chains that pulled his sauce from their shelves because of his views on race and religion took a hit Monday, but he vows to continue the fight.

Bessinger's suit against four of the nine chains was dismissed by Chief U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson. Most of the five remaining suits are in state courts.

Bessinger contends the chains unfairly removed bottles of his mustard-based barbecue sauce because he flies the Confederate battle flag at his 12 Midlands restaurants and sells products that claim a biblical justification for slavery.

Anderson ruled Bessinger's suit against Sam's, Wal-Mart, Food Lion and Winn-Dixie lacks enough merit to go further. A suit against Harris Teeter remains in federal court.

Bessinger declined comment after the hearing at the USC law school.

But his attorney, Glen LaForce of Hilton Head, said he will ask the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Anderson.

Bessinger claimed in his $50 million suit that the nine chains violated the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act and his First Amendment right to free speech.

He did not have written contracts to sell his sauce, so there are no contract disputes.

Bessinger and his supporters seem unable to grasp the fact that private individuals and entities are free not to associate themselves with views they don't agree with, including refusing to sell products produced by persons holding unsavory perspectives. Only when the government punishes persons for expressing their views does a freedom of expression claim arise.

Business fell off after The (Columbia) State newspaper reported on the items Bessinger sold in his main store and headquarters in West Columbia.

On Monday, that location was selling books with titles such as: "The South Was Right," "Myths of American Slavery," "Shakedown, Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson," and a pamphlet that purports to document President Lincoln's "hypocrisy, treachery and intrigue."

Attorneys for the grocery chains argued in court Monday that the First Amendment also protects their clients' rights to choose what they sell.

"They can say whatever they want to say or fly any flag they want," said Virginia attorney Cheryl Falvey, representing Food Lion. "What they're attempting to do is make us sell their product."

Ray Moore, representing Sam's and Wal-Mart, agreed.

His clients made "a business decision who not to associate with," Moore said. "Why did they do it? So as not to offend their customers. And they have a business prerogative to do that."

Of course, the argument in favor of letting the market decide when a supplier or a product is too offensive applies to anyone, not just Bessinger. In a similar situation involving the sell of the viciously racist board game 'Ghettopoly,' marketers have largely chosen to stop selling the product. Like Bessinger, Ghettopoly's producer, David Chang, has discovered there are limits to what corporations feel comfortable associating themselves with. Dixie Outfitters, a promoter of tee shirts that feature Confederate flags, has also felt the heat.

In an embarrassing display of poor reasoning, Bessinger's attorney, a fellow neo-Confederate, tried to justify forcing grocery stores to sell Bessinger's barbecue sauce.

LaForce argued that if the chains win, they will have established an "offensiveness meter for their suppliers."

"Food stores should not be in the business of worrying about what their suppliers think," LaForce said.

"We don't care if the president of the pickle company believes that aliens have landed. Are the pickles good?"

Anderson told LaForce he was starting down a slippery slope.

What if customers boycotted a store because they did not like the owner's politics, the judge asked. Would it be fair for the owner to sue the customers?

Though 'assumption of risk' is usually associated with torts involving physical injury, I believe it sums up the reality of modern marketing. Buy promoting controversial views in one's business or by one's product, a supplier assumes the risk of having other participants in the chain of commerce refuse to sell his product. Since the government is not involved, no laws are being broken. The solution is for the seller of a controversial product to accept that such rejection comes with the territory. If he is unwilling to assume the risk of refusals to sell his product, he might want to promote items that are not controversial. Since Bessinger has been an outspoken opponent of integration since the 1950s, I do not expect him to change his perspective. However, he can accept that his views are so offensive that he has, in essence, chosen to limit the marketabiliy of his product by publicizing them.

posted by J. | 10:43 PM

Tuesday, October 21, 2003  

Southern blogger strikes out in anti-hate crimes argument

A conservative blogger from the South is concerned about hate crimes statutes. He believes they are an avenue for legally abusing white people.

The evidence in the "hate crime" trial so far shows that these three do appear to be racist idiots, as witnesses said the defendants shouted things like "If you ain't white, you ain't right" after police broke up the beatings.

If the judge determines that "racial bias" drove the attack, the three defendants could get as much as five years added to their sentences.

As you might have guessed, I am not a fan of "hate crime" laws.

First off, the existence of "hate crimes" laws means that if these scumbags hated hippies rather than blacks and chose to beat up a couple of hippies in Little 5, they'd be facing 5 years less in prison. And that's not right.

My head is just as valuable as a black guy's head. And if someone cracks my head open on a fire hydrant, that person should be punished as strongly as if he had cracked a black guy's head open on a fire hydrant.

The prosecution that has gotten Cap'n Ken riled is of three panhandling white drifters -- Ulysses Andrade, Christopher Botts and Angela Pisciotta -- who severely beat a pair of young African-American brothers who refused a request for money. The Atlanta Journal & Constitution reported the story.

The defendants were harassing people on the street with aggressive panhandling and zeroed in on the two brothers, witnesses testified Monday. Pisciotta, 21, tried to high-five Idris Golden, who rejected the overture and tried to brush on past, witnesses said.

Several witnesses said Pisciotta and Botts shouted racial slurs. After police broke up the attack, Pisciotta turned to the crowd and chanted, "If you ain't white, you ain't right," said Jennifer Maddox and other witnesses. Botts was using racial epithets, she said.

"It was kind of like they were preaching to the crowd," Maddox testified.

David Simpson, who runs a shop on Moreland Avenue, where the beating occurred, broke down in tears while testifying of how Botts stomped on Idris Golden and how his otherwise limp body would quiver with each blow.

"His head was being stomped, straight down, repeatedly," Simpson testified. "I started toward them and said, 'Stop.'"

Botts slammed Idris' head against a fire hydrant and on the street repeatedly, said Aria Bolden, who witnessed the attack with her 14-year-old daughter. "My daughter threw up, she was so distraught," Bolden said.

The defendants pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and sought a bench trial in regard to whether they had committed a hate crime.

I believe Cap'n Ken chose a very poor example of hate crime prosecutions to complain about. The motivation of racial animus, required in hate crimes, is clear from the testimony of eye witnesses. Pisciotta and Botts made their bigotry explicit both before and after the assaults. The physical injury to the victims is significant. The fact that the defendants sought to incite racism in others is also evident. For these reasons, this case is a paradigm of why prosecutions for hate crimes do often make sense.

I can put Cap'n Ken's concern about hate crimes statutes being a mechanism to pick on white people to rest. Statistics reveal that prosecutions, which are few, include whites as victims some of the time. In fact, there is quite a bit of variation in who is attacked, with race just one of several reasons people are abused.

The latest in hate crime statistics and facts.

•Of the 9,721 single-bias incidents, 44.9 percent were motivated by racial prejudice, 21.6 percent were driven by a bias toward an ethnicity/national origin, 18.8 percent motivated by religious intolerance, 14.3 percent by sexual-orientation bias, and 0.4 percent by disability bias.

•"During 2001, 4,367 of the single-bias incidents were victims of racial bias, 1,828 were victims of religious bias, 1,393 were victims of sexual-orientation bias, 2,098 were victims of ethnic or national origin bias, and 35 were victims of disability bias."

•Criminal incidents can involve more than one offense, victim, and/or offender. In 2001, there were 9,730 bias-motivated incidents, 12,020 victims, and 9,239 known offenders. A breakdown of the 12,020 victims shows that 64.6 percent were crimes against persons and 34.7 percent were victims of crime against property.

•"In 2001, law enforcement agencies reported a total of 9,239 known offenders associated with 9,730 bias-motivated incidents (9 incidents were multiple-bias). Of these known offenders, 65.5 percent were white, 20.4 percent were black, 0.9 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 0.6 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native."

Hopefully, with this information, Cap'n Ken will be able to sleep comfortably at night. The head he rests on his pillow is just as protected by hate crime statutes as anyone else's.

posted by J. | 10:24 PM