Writer believes: Racisim, pandering politics behind Mandela snub

December 13, 2013

To the editor:

Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark is an embarrassment in his refusal to lower the flag in honor of Nelson Mandela, as our president ordered.

The flag has been ordered lowered — the president’s prerogative, not the sheriff’s — for many non-Americans. Clark’s assertion that non-Americans have not been so honored is thus simply wrong. If he is merely ignorant, that is bad enough, especially in a law enforcement official who should respect the truth; he should apologize and lower the flag.

But being arrogant enough to think constituents can’t do simple research, and will believe something simply because he says it, is inexcusably arrogant. Clark can choose his opinions; he can’t choose his facts, which a simple internet search or examination of the Flag Code will provide. Clark is showing disrespect to both President Obama and President Mandela. Wonder why? What do those two have in common?

I can’t know if Clark is a racist; it is the APPEARANCE of racism which is damaging to both our county’s image and economic interests. Clark is ignoring kindergarten-level public relations and seems proud to do so. In the less than a decade during which I have resided here, Pickens County has made plenty of news.

Clemson students donned blackface to “celebrate” Martin Luther King, Jr.s birthday. Football fans booed students being commissioned as military officers when they swore allegiance to President Obama, their commander-in-chief. Daniel High School students “celebrated” Ghetto Day during homecoming week. The Pickens police chief garnered praise and support (from the same Tea Party-types now supporting Clark) for using a hateful racial epithet to describe elected officials.

And now we get Clark and his antics. Of course, Clark IS a politician and can’t be totally unaware of how all this looks, and he is obligated to care. But I guess that adds up to very little when he considers how important it is to fire up his right-wing base any old way he can until the next election day. Clark doesn’t need ‘em sitting home then, even in this red-in-a-red-state neck of the woods. Clark is pandering and rabble-rousing.

Clark can say that he doesn’t care what people outside the county think, but that would be foolish at best and a dereliction of duty. Somehow Clark justifies using his office as a vehicle to make personal statements aimed at the current administration at the very real expense of citizens.

When Clemson tries to recruit graduate students and faculty from all over the world, when local business leaders try to lure industry to the area, this stuff gets seen and heard about. Do you know what these outsiders say, what they think and what they decide to do with their talents and dollars and jobs? They go ELSEWHERE to study, teach, start or expand businesses and rear their families.

Clark claims his position has nothing to do with his feelings about the current president, but the folks who support him do so precisely BECAUSE his actions are disrespectful to President Obama. They can pretend, along with Clark, that what he is doing is some sort of “principled stand” but the truth is obvious; if Mandela had died on President Bush’s or President McCain’s or President Romney’s watch, the situation would be different, and Clark would lower the flag if and when ordered.

Clark can pretend that HE makes the rules and HE decides when the flag is lowered, and he can pretend that his personal opinion that non-Americans shouldn’t be honored matters, but that’s not so. The people who agree with him don’t believe that President Obama is even an American!

It’s sad indeed that a law enforcement officer would disrespect the office of the president this way. Clark should show more respect to the office of the president (if not to the man himself), and model that for those who would not. It’s all deplorable, because what Clark is really modeling — including in his personal messages to me and, through his behavior, to all citizens — is a disrespect for the truth, a disrespect for authority, a disrespect for the rule of law, and a disrespect for simple tradition. That last means less than the others, especially in a law enforcement officer who is bound to respect authority and the rule of law.

Clark quibbles over the difference between “laws” and “rules,” insisting he is not bound by the latter nor by an law or rule he deems “unenforceable.” Wonder how he and his officers feel if and when citizens do the same? Maybe we should start and see how quickly we would be in the county jail if we decided to argue over which “laws” versus which “rules” we actually have to follow when directed to by an officer. Clark and his employees expect cooperation out of respect for their office, and I expect Clark to cooperate with President Obama’s orders out of respect for the president’s office. He disrespects not only the man but the office, himself and citizens too, and it doesn’t matter that some “majority” in the county supports what he is doing. Clark could take the high road, as Mandela did, but I guess that would too politically risky in a place like Pickens County.

Toni Vitanza