EDITORIAL: Racism is still a threat

A majority of voters rejected Karl Rove’s use of “wedge issues” to split and weaken the movement against the Republican right in the Nov. 7 elections. And this week, our lead article reports that Smithfield workers in Tarheel, N.C., also rejected racism and xenophobia, walking out to fight an anti-immigrant witch-hunt against some of the workers. They too won a resounding victory.

But other headline news proves that racism is alive and continues to pose a grave threat to that unity.

• New York City police opened fire on a group of unarmed young African American men as they left a night club, killing 23-year-old Sean Bell on his wedding day. Two of his companions were wounded, one struck by 11 bullets. Police fired at least 50 shots, nine more than the police fusillade that murdered unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999.

• Atlanta police broke down the door of Kathryn Johnston, 88, in a “no knock” raid in a crime-ridden African American neighborhood. Terrified, she opened fire with a revolver. They then shot her to death.

• A video posted on the web in November shows Los Angeles police savagely beating a Latino man, William Cardenas, before his arrest last Aug. 11, reminiscent of the LAPD beating of Rodney King in 1992, also caught on videotape.

• Comedian Michael Richards of TV’s hit show “Seinfeld” went on a two-and-a-half-minute racist rant when a Black person in his audience heckled him. Richards has been apologizing ever since. But there have been too many racist outbursts by politicians and media personalities followed by mea culpas. (Remember Sen. George Allen’s slur against an Asian man whom he called a “macaca.”)

Our body politic is saturated with racism and bigotry covered up with a thin veneer of “color blindness.” African Americans, Latinos, Arabs, Asians and other people of color, Muslims, immigrants, women, gays — indeed any group that can be singled out for purposes of divide and conquer is targeted.

We must demand answers, holding police, politicians and the media accountable. We won too big a victory over racism and xenophobia Nov. 7 to allow the racists to win by default after the votes were counted.