Just a few weeks ago, I posted a speech by the Commandant of the Air Force Academy responding to a racist incident at the Air Force Academy Prep School.
About a week ago, the New York Times reported that the alleged victim of the racist remark actually planted it. Apparently the student wrote the racial slur on his and other minority students’ doors in an ill-advised attempt to get out of some unrelated difficulty he was in.
The incident was seized upon by some commentators as proof that all racism is fake, or at least overblown. That is a tragedy. Racism is real and pervasive in our society. It is just a shame that a misguided attempt by a teenager (I presume) could cause some to question our national shame.
I am reminded of some criminal cases that I handled, both as County Attorney and as judge. I am particularly offended by people who attempt to steal money from the government by claiming welfare benefits to which they are not entitled. Public assistance is a lifeline to people in desperate straits. It is, most literally, all that stands between a parent having food for her family and becoming homeless.
Far too many people put blame on these unfortunate folks, claiming they are lazy, greedy or dishonest.
And, those who attempt to cheat the system give grist to that mill.
I tried, in my professional life, to send a message to those cheats: Commit this crime and you will go to jail. Too often, because of a weakness in the prosecution’s case or innocents (children) who would suffer if jail were imposed, I relented. But these crimes are particularly reprehensible to me.
But this crime, like a false report of a racist act, does not only affect the perpetrator and those close to him/her. It affects all those real victims of racism and those honorable folks who become near destitute and must rely on government assistance.
This case in the Academy prep school was false. But we should remember the words of the Commandant of the Academy addressing the new reality:
"Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed," Silveria said in a Tuesday email. "You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect - and those who don't understand those concepts, aren't welcome here."