The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
That old American speech thermometer heads slowly South
It is, right now, just -18F in International Falls, MN. Positively Amazonian compared to the temperature of speech in the US right now, to judge from the succession of bad-news cases .
Jeff Jacoby (who should can his photo byline stat, by the way) is talking about Omaha's Trevor Richards, the real African-American (last seen here on January 23); and about Jennifer Cundiff:
Back in February 2001, the Southwest Airlines flight attendant was trying to coax passengers boarding a flight from Las Vegas to Kansas City to find their seats quickly so the plane could take off. "Eenie meenie minie moe," she said over the intercom, "pick a seat, we gotta go."
Off went the klaxon, and the shakedown was on:
...two black passengers...Louise Sawyer and Grace Fuller, who are sisters, interpreted Cundiff's couplet as a racist insult and said they were sure it was intended to humiliate them. It was so upsetting, Fuller claimed, that it triggered a seizure and left her bedridden for days. Eventually the women sued, charging Southwest with violating their civil rights and inflicting physical and emotional distress.
(Was Jesse Jackson contacted? If so, did he participate in the shakedown? Did he enquire as to the standard of pulchritude of the plaintiffs?)
Cundiff, no doubt, showed a shocking lack of racial awareness. Eeny meeny is not for mixed company, surely. Except, according to Jacoby,
Unless you're old enough to remember flappers and speakeasies, you probably don't know that the words that originally followed "eenie, meenie, minie, moe" were "catch a nigger by the toe." Cundiff, who was 22, certainly didn't know. Like most of us, she grew up saying "catch a tiger by the toe" -- she had never heard the older, uglier version
Well, Prohibition  was long gone when my cord was cut, and there was only ever one version I heard. And tigers weren't in it.
The shakedown was on; and, it seems, US District Judge Kathryn Vratil blew out the motion for summary judgement. Just like as if it was Ally McBeal and entertainment justified nullification. The jury killed the shakedown - Hallelujah! But the defendants picked up their own tab, as I believe is usual.
Jacoby picks the essential, speech-chilling, point.
In a way, the shakedown artists may have done Jennifer Cundiff a favour: because the airline had been sued, it could hardly fire her. Not while the case was ongoing (one to watch, clearly).
But the word will clearly have gone out to cabin crew to cut out the improv, or else.
The most depressing thing about the speech-chilling business is the evident lack of fight in large swathes of those whose hard-won liberties are being eroded. And, in a lot of cases were free speech is under attack, the protection of the First Amendment is not relevant (because the speech-chilling is not being done by a public body), and therefore only political pressure is available to defend speech rights.
All the more puzzling to one who comes from a country where the ultimate legal safeguard of free speech is this monstrosity (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights):
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information an ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
The guy  who drafted that must have had a Rummy smirk when he'd finished! It's the equivalent of the Civil Rights Act of 1957: a civil rights act without any civil rights in it .
This mildly interesting op-ed includes the information that Westside High School rebel-with-a-cause real African-American Trevor Richard's buddies in the postering caper were - 16-year-old twins Paul and Scott Rambo.
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