‘Hate Crime’ Discussion Takes A Turn Toward The Personal

By Charles Sercombe

It’s not often that I step outside of my role in reporting the news.

But in a panel discussion held Monday evening and led by Congressman John Conyers, it got personal.

In a nutshell, John Conyers managed to turn a thoughtful discussion on hate crimes into a hate rally against me and this newspaper. Congressman, I have one simple request: get your facts straight before speaking out.

Conyers took issue with a headline I wrote for a story about the meeting. The headline said: “’Hate crime’ meeting may turn into a confrontation.”

Conyers basically called it irresponsible journalism. “Were you hoping for a confrontation, or had an inkling someone was going to do something?…” Conyers said to me.

I asked Conyers to read the story but before I could explain further, he shut me down.

Pointing his finger at me, Conyers snapped back: “No advice from you sir, at this point. You don’t know if I read the story or not.”

He had the 100 or so people in attendance roaring with approval.

Conyers later said he would read the article, so I guess my hunch was right that he had not read it. In fact, he said that he would like to have a “good” conversation with me about the article, and, after promising to read it, stated he would have an even “gooder” talk with me.

I’m still waiting for that talk — and an apology.

If Conyers had bothered to first read the story he would realize that I had more than an “inkling”— as he put it — that a disruption may — and “may” is a key word here — happen. In the article, Hamtramck City Council Pro Tem Scott Klein said he planned to bring others to “hijack” the meeting in protest.

Scott Klein is not a nobody from the street making an idle threat. He is a city leader and is quite capable of making good on his threat. Does that mean I approve of the disruption? No it does not.

So why write that headline? I’ll be the first to admit that writing headlines can be an imperfect art. Sometimes headline writers are spot-on; other times we cause more confusion than clarity.

But I chose that headline in case readers glossed over or ignored the story. I wanted to give a heads-up to readers and organizers of Monday’s meeting that, hey, you might have a problem here and you might want to take necessary precautions. Or, someone might want to approach Klein and tell him to dial it down.

As it turned out, Klein was a no-show. Why? I’m not sure. He told me the day after the meeting that he didn’t want to become a “target.”

Was I used by Klein? Probably, and it won’t be the last time a city leader or community activist uses a newspaper. I’m not sure if Klein decided to back down for fear of becoming a target or if he wanted to scare people away from the meeting. He does have a record of walking out of Council meetings when he doesn’t like a particular discussion taking place.

Judging by the turnout, though, his threat to protest the meeting had little effect. The place was packed.

But to repeat again, Klein’s threat to disrupt the meeting was a threat I took seriously and was a threat he was quite capable of pulling off. Will I be pretty skeptical the next time he tells me he’s going to do something? You bet.

To you readers wondering what all the fuss was about with Klein, here it is: Klein is an openly gay man and he has a beef with the president of the Hamtramck NAACP, Asm “Kamal” Rahman.

The Hamtramck NAACP was the sponsor of the panel discussion.

Kamal has been interviewed in the past about his involvement in defeating Hamtramck’s “Natural Rights” ordinance last year. The ordinance made it illegal to discriminate against anyone just because of their race, ethnicity or whether they are gay or have a different sexual orientation from the norm of society. In an interview on WDET’s “Detroit Today” show (July 16, 2008), Rahman said he opposed rights for gays and those with a different sexual orientation because it’s against his faith and sense of family values and would allow people to perform sex with children and animals. (At the mention of bestiality, the program host threatened to pull the plug because of the inflammatory remark.)

Rahman also said in the program that he opposes so-called hate crime laws because that means a person who assaults another because they are a certain race or are gay can face an additional criminal charge.

Klein sees Rahman’s position with the NAACP as hypocritical and wanted to publicly expose him. The national leadership of the NAACP has come out in favor of gay rights and is supportive of the “Hate Crime” legislation that Conyers’ is sponsoring.

Rahman is certainly entitled to his beliefs, and Klein is certainly entitled to publicly challenge those beliefs and the seemingly contradictory message that the Hamtramck NAACP is sending out by having Rahman as its president.

I truly wish Conyers had held his tongue in his knee-jerk assessment of my story. I also truly resent his turning the crowd on me. The irony here is that a meeting about preventing hate crimes turned hateful against me and the press in general.

Conyers at one point lumped my headline with the national media coverage of disruptions happening at town hall meetings on establishing health care coverage for everyone. His beef is that the press doesn’t talk about how Republicans planted operatives to purposely disrupt the meetings.

From what I’ve read on the coverage of the meetings the press indeed covered that aspect.

Almost in his next breath Conyers said my headline doesn’t “sink to that level,” which made me wonder, what are you complaining about then?

Another question I have for Conyers: Did you incite that crowd just because you have issues with the media?

The ignorance and assumptions made at that meeting were staggering. And for Conyers to turn the audience on me was unconscionable. It makes me wonder where was his outrage and self-righteousness when his wife, Monica, pled guilty to accepting bribes while serving on the Detroit City Council?

What does he have to say about that?

My guess is, we’ll never hear a word.

Before the meeting I never had a deep thought one way or the other about Conyers, though I certainly did respect his years of service. But if this is the way he operates, I hope a Democratic challenger comes forward and kicks this guy out of office and off the taxpayer payroll.

As for Klein, the voters have already spoken. He was booted out of office in the Primary Election. His term ends Dec. 31. I suspect, however, we haven’t seen the last of him.

A footnote: This thought isn’t in the printed version of The Review, but I think it’s worth adding. What I would like my critics to do is have some perspective. Say, for example, a Detroit City Councilmember threatened to “hijack” this meeting led by Conyers. Don’t you think the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and the entire Detroit media would be all over that?

If you ask me, all this outrage is a classic case of shooting the messenger.

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