Monday, November 6, 2017

TWF 279: Evaluating the racism of Jack Martins' “New Neighbors” ad.

Greetings, Freeport and Long Island,

I don't often use this space to talk politics, and I refuse even now for The Weekly Freeporter as a no-longer-weekly blog to issue full-fledged endorsements. However, a recent scourge has emerged in Nassau County and it cannot go unanswered.

What you're about to see is the front page of the “New Neighbors” ad distributed by either supporters of Jack Martins, Republican candidate for County Executive in tomorrow's election, or Jack Martins' campaign, itself. As you should know, “supporters of” are very often just extensions of the campaign.

Once we look at this document, we're going to assess what it's 'trying' to say, and what it really suggests and why, as the title of this article suggests, it is a blatantly racist attempt to scare voters into voting against Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate in the race.

The "New Neighbors" ad; this particular photo comes courtesy of Adam Haber

Meet your new neighbors!”

First of all, let's evaluate the claim this ad makes. The ad opens with a suggestion that “Laura Curran will roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13.” The photo at center is of these mean-faced gang members (who I've heard were probably actually filmed in a foreign country's jail, but I don't have proof of that just yet), dangerous criminals who are about to move in next door or across the street. Surely, that's a scary image, isn't it?! I mean, aren't these guys intimidating?

Is there a single shred of evidence offered to prove Curran wants to bring gang members into your neighborhood? No.

The ad suggests (without citing evidence) Larrau Curran works for “special interest groups” from New York City, and goes on to say, “These groups want to make Nassau County a sanctuary county for illegal immigrants and protect those convicted of violent crimes from deportation.” Okay. Once again, absolutely no evidence gets cited in this argument. Not a footnote to, say, a Newsday article which ran a quote from Curran.

I have asked people who support Mr. Martins on Twitter (and copied Mr. Martins' Twitter account in on the conversations) if they could provide any proof or quote of Curran's suggesting she is indeed guilty of what certainly sounds like a dangerous crime, the way they've put it. (Keep that last bit in mind.) Of course, none could actually prove Curran complicit in bringing gang members into Nassau County, but let's get at the real root of this problem.

I am calling this ad racist, along with proponents of it, and you deserve to know why.

Dog Whistles And Megaphones

During my search on Twitter to figure out an answer, I ran into a user named Christopher Shea (@CkeefeShea), among others. According to him, the “New Neighbors” ad was really about Laura Curran's beliefs on what's called “Sanctuary city,” or perhaps "Sanctuary county" status. This is a vague argument to begin with, but as an example of what that means, New York City won't let Immigration officers into their schools without a warrant. That, my friends, sounds reasonable from a Constitutional perspective, doesn't it? You're not allowed to just randomly sweep people up because you think they might have done something wrong (and immigration sweeps often net legal immigrants and US Citizens, so there's that to consider). You need a warrant for that. Period.

The implication, as this ad's producers would have you believe, is that Laura Curran wants to make Nassau into a “Sanctuary County,” and that this would by definition give gang members in MS-13 and other organizations a safe haven in our home.  To quote Mr. Shea, "Bottom line, sanctuary policies create safe havens for violent gangs like MS-13."  I have no reason to believe Mr. Shea doesn't truly believe this to be the case, but that only makes him at best a victim of race-baiting.

Okay. Deep breaths. We now understand their underlying argument.

Here's why it is inescapably racist:

MS-13 has become something of a 'dog whistle' on Long Island.  A 'dog whistle' is a type of political speech that might sound perfectly normal, but to those listening for the right cues it reinforces negative racial, ethnic, religious, or otherwise stereotypes.  The New Neighbors ad is a dog whistle aimed not just at White Supremacist terrorist groups, but really at anyone who is simply afraid or anxious about demographic trends showing America's changing face.  The picture and the wording suggests, “Hey, you see these really bad examples of an immigrant to this country? They're all like this.”   It is a stereotype of epic proportions, and a viciously negative one, at that. 

It would be as if the only popular image of Italian immigrants were those of La Familia, the deadly Mafia who would kill you if you didn't pay your protection money on time. That's a scary and even, to a limited extent, accurate perception of Italian-American history! Yes! We (for I am, in part, Italian-American) have had problems with organized crime in the “New Country” as well as the “Old Country).

It would be as if saying all German-Americans (for I am also German-American) are not to be trusted because Germany collapsed into fascism and Naziism in the 1930's and 40's.  We know that many Germans resisted the Nazis, even if it led to their demise.

It would be as if, wouldn't you know, that the Irish were regarded as stupid “Molly” and “Mick” characters that are still so prevalent that Notre Dame's mascot is indeed the “Fighting Irish,” who happens to look like a leprechaun. "No Irish Need Apply" was a popular slogan during the Industrial era and the Irish diaspora.  Police vans are sometimes called “Paddy Wagons” because so many “Paddys” (AKA Irishmen) were arrested for drunken brawling that, well...You get the impression. (P.S., I'm also Irish-American. I'm a mutt).

My point: By seizing on the scariest possible imagery to explain all illegal immigrants that would be protected by a “sanctuary” status in Nassau County (one that this image fails to prove is even on Curran's mind), the authors conclude that Laura Curran is “MS-13's choice for county executive.”

This conclusion, reinforced by what Martins supporters suggest is their own understanding of the ad, proves that it is indeed racist. When challenged on the connection between the image's negative stereotype of Hispanic-Americans and illegal immigrants alike, I heard pitiable answers: “Who cares if majority are Hispanic for freaking crying out loud. Deport all them!” said Craw (@CWForSheeze) with a tenuous grasp on grammar.

An Anti-Endorsement of Jack Martins

Martins has, according to all accounts I've seen, and from my own attempts to reach out to him via social media, hidden from this ad's fall-out in the most exceptionally cowardly way imaginable. He could have stood up and said, “No, I don't stand for this ad, I don't believe that all immigrants – even all of those not here legally – are criminals. Most of them are just trying to have a better life and are running away from things that you and I would probably want to run away from, too,” but saying something like that would take courage, of which Jack Martins has demonstrated none.

I do not use this publication to endorse candidates, but I will certainly Anti-Endorse Jack Martins. Vote for anyone but him, tomorrow. He's either too cowardly to confront his supporters' racism, or too racist to treat all Nassau residents fairly. Either one makes him an unqualified candidate to lead Nassau County in the 21st century.  Vote Democrat, vote Green, vote Libertarian - vote for anyone whose name isn't Jack Martins, because Jack Martins doesn't have the guts to confront this racism as you have, upon reading this.