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Is It Okay If It Does More Harm Than Good?

I was intrigued by a story I read yesterday about an incident in Florida between two teens. One teen was brandishing a Confederate flag and screaming racial epithets while riding through town in a pick-up. He is white. His grandfather had warned him about his obssession with the flag and told him that he should be careful because he did not understand what it meant. It's true. He didn't. And he ended up shot.

The second teen, the shooter, understoood all too well what the flag represented and freaked out. 

I guess the argument could be made that the first guy had every right to do what he did. He was expressing himself in a way he though was appropriate. I guess that's his right, free speech and all, but if in exercising his rights, he offends a huge segment of the population, and in fact, incites violence, well, what then?

And then there is the shooter, who clearly has his own problems, not the least of which is that he is 18 and is walking around with a loaded pistol. To him the flag did not represent free speech. To him it is a hateful symbol of slavery, and he is black.

I'm all for free speech, even though what people have to say often offends me. It seems like those who feel the need to exercise their right visually, on air, or in the streets, have the ultimate goal of persuading others in a big way that they are right, that their view is best. Those more accepting of different perspectives and ideas and points of view are not brandishing bloody posters and waving flags--they're talking and debating.   

Protests are great, don't get me wrong, especially if you want to draw attention to your cause and you don't mind the occassional bullet to the chest (he lived) but it might be a good idea to get a grasp on history and educate yourself before you start marching. You and your free speech may do more harm than good.

deleted deleted 26-30 28 Responses May 6, 2009

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I don't really see the point to this story. The one doing harm wasn't the guy waving the flag, whatever he was saying. Was JFK doing harm by offending the people who had him assassinated?



I agree that if your words somehow hurt someone, that you should be held accountable. Yelling "Fire" in a theatre could get someone trampled. But no one should ever be made a criminal/terrorist for stating their opinion.

Owning a gun doesn't guarantee that you're an idiot. Not causation, just high correlation.

Well, I have a gun for self protection, but I hope I'm not an idiot.

Freedom of speech is not a perfect concept because people are imperfect. However, it is a fundamental right that everybody should have. You have to know what each other are saying to be able to work through all the ills of the world, which will not be solved by bombing the s*** out of each other, by torture, or any other nefarious means. Reasoned debate is where it's at!

Mizzen123

Nora Trent, you are a jewel.

An Atheist has a religion. That religion is Atheism. It is expoused with the same zeal and enthuseism as any other religion. But it is not hate. The kid with the flag was throwing hate out about certain people in their own homes and neighborhoods. It is no wonder he got shot.

"If the kid had been an atheist and brandishing a "Think" sign while spouting the works of Darwin would that have been any less offensive to even more of the populous in the South."



Racism and Intolerance should just all be lumped together. I am an atheist living in the south and I can tell you I and my children are shunned just because we do not believe. My daughter came home crying because one of her friends mother found out I am an atheist and does not want her daughter potentially being led to satan if she were to come over and be exposed to our non comformist beliefs. Is my daughters pain any worse or less than say an african american little girl being shunned for her skin color? I dont think so.



I do not believe in God but I believe that every american has the right to worship or not worship in any manner they see fit. I do not try to change people because they believe differently than I do. This country is founded on our right to express ourselves freely as long as it does not infringe on another humans rights.



One person said education is what is needed. I agree. When I studied history we were forced to memorize "The Bill of Rights" and then had to write a paper on what each of those rights actually meant. Why is that not being done today? My daughter is 16 and has never had to do this. Now everyone is afraid to say or do the wrong thing in schools so they are not learning half of what they should be.



Another issue is racism and intolerance are perpetuated generation after generation and that will always be there. I am not from the south. I was a navy brat so I experience growing up all over this country. When I moved to my parents hometown in the south after college I was shocked by all this racism and intolerance but I have learned that many of these people are brought up to believe the way they do. Many of them have never even left their county muchless the state. How can we expect these kinds of people who are not properly educated or traveled to be different than who they were conditioned to become??? Again education is needed in even the poorest school systems to ever change these issues.



In American President with Michael Douglus and Annette Benning at the end he tells the people How can we call our country free when two parties both screaming at the top of their lungs on different opinions not be allowed. Thats not the exact quote but you get the idea.



This young man decided to express his hateful convictions to a bunch of people and one of them had a gun. It is our right no matter how ugly the subject matter to express our opinions. This boy no doubtly has been programmed to be a racist and there was probably not enough education to give him information to make his own decisions. Was he stupid? Yes. Is it his fault for getting shot? No! The shooter likely also was programmed from birth to be angry and resentful about his heritage. He also was likely not educated properly about what "The bill of rights" actually means. Is that his fault? No but is he not responsible for his actions. Yes!



As I have already said I am an atheist, my husband is not, my daughter is and my 13yr old son is on the fence. Sometimes my husband goes to church. If it gives him comfort and peace then thats all I need to know. I still love him and respect him for all his beliefs. I have given my children every opportunity to be exposed to all religion. I allow them if they wish to go to church with my parents and their friends. I want them to make up their own minds so Im giving them all the information they need to make that decision. My son loves the "idea" of a God fixing your life, healing the sick and always being there for you...I really love that idea too but for my pragmatic mind it just makes no sense..If it bring my child joy to believe that then let him believe. He may or may not come to my conclusions and that will be ok too. I take every "god bless you" I hear not as offending little words thought up by the conformist to **** me off, but as "thank you" or "your a good person and I appreciate you." I guess Im just so frustrated why people have to take every thing so personally. Why would I assume everyone knows I am an atheist? Why would I correct ever Christian who ever says "god bless you." I dont care for Obama as our president only because our small company is now losing people due to his taxes and politics but one thing he has said is that "America is arrogant". We are. We are self centered and think of no one mostly but ourselves and our beliefs. Our own way of thinking. It really needs to change.



Everyone can make choices. We are hard wired with guilt, compassion, empathy and good ole moral fiber and I assure you, you dont have to believe in God to have morals. For example which keeps us from just killing someone as in this case because they are stupid. Unless they are a sociopath and can not feel anything they have a choice on how to respond to this situation. Its multi faceted and there are too many variables to truly judge the situation unless you are in it so I think a little introspection here is warranted, as well as both parties involved. It is sad but this horrible situation is all too common in our country.



I think education needs to be improved and go back to where it used to be 20yrs ago, where all issues were discussed including racism and intolerance. Everyone is now so afraid to talk about it or say something wrong so they say nothing. Obviously its not working! I dont know what the answer is but as a victim of intolerance myself I still believe in free thinking and everyones right to do as they please as long as it dosnt hurt anyone physically. It may offend you but so what? Ignore it!!! Walk away or say something about it to that person and why it offends you but you can be polite and not sound condescending about it. I think that would go a long way and you might just give someone something to think about.

"If the kid had been an atheist and brandishing a "Think" sign while spouting the works of Darwin would that have been any less offensive to even more of the populous in the South."



Racism and Intolerance should just all be lumped together. I am an atheist living in the south and I can tell you I and my children are shunned just because we do not believe. My daughter came home crying because one of her friends mother found out I am an atheist and does not want her daughter potentially being led to satan if she were to come over and be exposed to our non comformist beliefs. Is my daughters pain any worse or less than say an african american little girl being shunned for her skin color? I dont think so.



I do not believe in God but I believe that every american has the right to worship or not worship in any manner they see fit. I do not try to change people because they believe differently than I do. This country is founded on our right to express ourselves freely as long as it does not infringe on another humans rights.



One person said education is what is needed. I agree. When I studied history we were forced to memorize "The Bill of Rights" and then had to write a paper on what each of those rights actually meant. Why is that not being done today? My daughter is 16 and has never had to do this. Now everyone is afraid to say or do the wrong thing in schools so they are not learning half of what they should be.



Another issue is racism and intolerance are perpetuated generation after generation and that will always be there. I am not from the south. I was a navy brat so I experience growing up all over this country. When I moved to my parents hometown in the south after college I was shocked by all this racism and intolerance but I have learned that many of these people are brought up to believe the way they do. Many of them have never even left their county muchless the state. How can we expect these kinds of people who are not properly educated or traveled to be different than who they were conditioned to become??? Again education is needed in even the poorest school systems to ever change these issues.



In American President with Michael Douglus and Annette Benning at the end he tells the people How can we call our country free when two parties both screaming at the top of their lungs on different opinions not be allowed. Thats not the exact quote but you get the idea.



This young man decided to express his hateful convictions to a bunch of people and one of them had a gun. It is our right no matter how ugly the subject matter to express our opinions. This boy no doubtly has been programmed to be a racist and there was probably not enough education to give him information to make his own decisions. Was he stupid? Yes. Is it his fault for getting shot? No! The shooter likely also was programmed from birth to be angry and resentful about his heritage. He also was likely not educated properly about what "The bill of rights" actually means. Is that his fault? No but is he not responsible for his actions. Yes!



As I have already said I am an atheist, my husband is not, my daughter is and my 13yr old son is on the fence. Sometimes my husband goes to church. If it gives him comfort and peace then thats all I need to know. I still love him and respect him for all his beliefs. I have given my children every opportunity to be exposed to all religion. I allow them if they wish to go to church with my parents and their friends. I want them to make up their own minds so Im giving them all the information they need to make that decision. My son loves the "idea" of a God fixing your life, healing the sick and always being there for you...I really love that idea too but for my pragmatic mind it just makes no sense..If it bring my child joy to believe that then let him believe. He may or may not come to my conclusions and that will be ok too. I take every "god bless you" I hear not as offending little words thought up by the conformist to **** me off, but as "thank you" or "your a good person and I appreciate you." I guess Im just so frustrated why people have to take every thing so personally. Why would I assume everyone knows I am an atheist? Why would I correct ever Christian who ever says "god bless you." I dont care for Obama as our president only because our small company is now losing people due to his taxes and politics but one thing he has said is that "America is arrogant". We are. We are self centered and think of no one mostly but ourselves and our beliefs. Our own way of thinking. It really needs to change.



Everyone can make choices. We are hard wired with guilt, compassion, empathy and good ole moral fiber and I assure you, you dont have to believe in God to have morals. For example which keeps us from just killing someone as in this case because they are stupid. Unless they are a sociopath and can not feel anything they have a choice on how to respond to this situation. Its multi faceted and there are too many variables to truly judge the situation unless you are in it so I think a little introspection here is warranted, as well as both parties involved. It is sad but this horrible situation is all too common in our country.



I think education needs to be improved and go back to where it used to be 20yrs ago, where all issues were discussed including racism and intolerance. Everyone is now so afraid to talk about it or say something wrong so they say nothing. Obviously its not working! I dont know what the answer is but as a victim of intolerance myself I still believe in free thinking and everyones right to do as they please as long as it dosnt hurt anyone physically. It may offend you but so what? Ignore it!!! Walk away or say something about it to that person and why it offends you but you can be polite and not sound condescending about it. I think that would go a long way and you might just give someone something to think about.

This is rather interesting. My uncle has the confederate flag in his truck and he isn't racist. He likes the flag and he likes the South . People use all sorts of symbols for their own belief in heritage and pride. It is a way to feel part of an "us". It usually only causes pain which is why I refrain from most of it. The Civil War wasn't solely about slavery and the difference between northern and southern states are still obvious today, I can only imagine how different they were at the time. If the kid had been an atheist and brandishing a "Think" sign while spouting the works of Darwin would that have been any less offensive to even more of the populous in the South. There are people that would have felt justified in shooting him for calling their religion "stupid" or "unsupported". Resorting to violence is never justified and if anyone will be prosecuted for a hate crime it will be the shooter. There is no crime in speaking your opinion of ideas/people/images, or in shouting it from you car. If it was then I wouldn't hear the ignorant poetic lyrics blaring from car speakers I drive by. The only true way to stop ignorance is education, not through fear of getting shot if you say something someone doesn't like.

These were children in my eyes and they are at the age were belonging to an "us" is blinding to any other purpose. This is horrifying on so many levels.

Why is it alright for Mexicans...That crossed the boarder illegally...To be proud of their flag...and wave it every time that they want to.....



Why is it that the Irish can wave theirs...The french...and any other person....



To some in the South...That was their countrys flag...We might not like the politics of their country...But it is the one that they choose to emulate......The "African American" has the right to be proud of their historical country...Even if they do not know if that is where their ancestors came from...Then why is it not right for these white men to be proud of theirs......It is the past...And it is time to get over it......I had family on both sides....and my Great Grand father was a child during the war....And even farther back I had some that owned slaves....Does that make me a bad person.....No I think not....I do not owe anyone for anything that my family in the past did....



And it is time to take away the power from certian words...and flags......Have those kids study more...and make something out of them....That is the true way to honor those that were held in bondage.....Be the best that you can be.....and rise above the low lifes...Leave them be.....And pull a gun...Only if they do that to you...



and in the words of a criminal that was made to look great....."Can't we all just get along"....

Nice post, outercalm! Neither - either - neither :P

Our rights come at great cost and with great responsibilities. It sounds like neither individual understood either as neither were responsibly exercising their right.

The Idiot flag waver had every right to brandish the flag, but the screaming of racial epitaphs is probably unlawful, as such speech is likely to incite riots. He can very well be tried for a Hate Crime. Although I will support his right to wave the flag of his choice, he got got what he deserved for being stupid. I am by no means advocating violence, but come on now, you should know better than to do something like that.

People shouldn't have to die just to have free speech and rights. It's a tragic waste of life. I don't honor those who died, I pity them. The only reason that people have to die for freedoms is that there are truly hateful and ignorant people who would want to take them away. It's all just an unbelievable amount of waste.





Perhaps if more people throughout history were able to admit the obvious fact that this is your only life, they wouldn't have been so quick to kill each other and sacrifice themselves.

Hi Nora,



I am guessing it was Leonard Pitts' account of that encounter that you read. I read it, too.

He described one of the young men as having failed history, and the other as having failed civics. Ignorance has never been an accepted excuse. Furthermore, it can get you killed.



However it was mentioned that the waver and his friend were also yelling racially disparaging remarks while driving their pickup through the downtown. And the waver's g'father said he had repeatedly talked to him about the "dirty banner." Perhaps evidence of not so much ignorance and more of hate.



Maybe if this is what is meant by free speech, by that same standard don't others have the right to disagree? I'd have liked to see those two figuratively tarred and feathered by a large group of the more enlightened townspeople, but we haven't come that far, yet.



Either way, you can't be exonerated for carrying a weapon and using it to gun down someone who's opinion you find hurtful and offensive.

Free speech is never free...>Someone paid the ultamit price for it...They gave their life for that right.....And that man was called a Soldier....



Thank you all for those that served

MuddyWaters and V both make excellent points. Racism isn't the only thing being perpetuated. Violence and intolerance of gays is just as bad. Some people are afraid of what they perceive as "different" than them. It's just wrong. We are all human beings first and foremost.

He knew what he was doing.....I cant stand people who are irresponsible with their actions and try to use the free speech thing. It's a b***h move.

It's amazing that such ignorance still exists. Race is meaningless. Homophobia is just as depressing. Such intolerance and prejudice still existing is petty and pathetic. We are all the same species, so it shouldn't matter.

We do have the right to free speech. However, as human beings we should also have the decency to NOT say or do things we KNOW will inflame others. Just because we have the right to free speech doesn't mean we have to exercise it. On the other hand, if someone says something you find distasteful or offensive, just remember that is one person's opinion. Should it matter that much to you? Jojo, what you did with your son's friend's hat is the right attitude. You didn't take away his right to express himself in a way you find offensive, but you asked that he not wear it around you because you don't like it, and he complies with your wishes because he is still a decent human being, even if misguided. Civilized! Seems to me that people (like the flag waver) who go out of their way to make a scene WANT the attention they get. If everyone would just ignore it, they would stop because they can't perform without an audience! If I wave a confederate flag and no one sees is it still offensive?

Living in the south as I do, I can tell you that the Confederate flag has hateful connotations. In Auburn, Alabama there's a black city councilman who removed many confederate flags from graves at a confederate cemetery. People are up in arms about it. Most black people say he was right to remove the offensive flags, most white people believe he should be charged with theft for removing the flags.

Who knows what's right?

My son has a friend that wears a confederate flag hat. I have told him I find it offensive and he's not welcome in my home wearing it. He now leaves it in his truck when he comes over.I've heard him use the "N" word. I don't appreciate it. My granddaughter is of mixed race and this is part of her heritage. It's part of all of our heritage as Americans but it comes at Selena from both sides. I have seen the hatred. I know Representative John Lewis. I've heard the stories of racism and hatred and the violence in the 60's and what happened during the march from Montgomery to Selma. I heard it from the "horses mouth" so to speak.

I have heard the comments in stores by ignorant people when I am out with my multiracial granddaughter. It's reprehensible and I do not hesitate to speak up when I hear such comments. It's a shame that in this day and age, the hate is still perpetuated. We have a multiracial president. Why are people calling him "black"?

We are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, but we're not very united, now are we?

I wonder which is worse, screaming the "N-word" in a crowded theater or screaming "Fire!" at a Klan rally?

Texico remains one of the best puns and best ideas I've come across on this site. This will be off topic, but it's worth looking at. I love how Governor Perry (who hates the big bad Federal Government) had to come beggin on his hands and knees with the recent hysteria over the swine flu..... I love it when they are so blatantly pathetic. It's also nice to see idiots like him vehemently oppose Obama's stimulus package and then turn around and accept the money (their resistance is just a sideshow, since they know that their state legislatures would override a governor's opinion, so he's free to protest loudly knowing full well he'll get the money regardless).

Texico,...hehehe.

Saying that waving the confederate flag is a hate crime is a huge stretch. Maybe if he was wearing a white hood and had a flaming cross in the back of the pickup, then I would be more apt to call it a hate crime. But waving the confederate flag? Maybe he just wants to secede from the United States, like the Republican governor of Texas.

You have the right to an unpopular opinion. And you have the right to be shot for it, apparently.

If there are always consequences when we speak....how is it free?

Free speech is not an absolute right. Yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater is a crime. The kid with the flag could be guilty of a "hate" crime.