Editorials

Independence official says offensive ‘Middle Easterns’ comment was misconstrued. Really?

Independence, Missouri City Councilman Curt Dougherty believes “discount smoke shops owned by mostly Middle Easterns who will sell anything out the back door” are one of the types of businesses that need to have more restrictions placed on them.

After all, he said, in the eastern Jackson County city of Independence, they “cap a lot of things,” including payday lenders, pawn shops and tattoo parlors.

Dougherty’s intolerant and ill-considered comments came during a City Council discussion about an ordinance that would amend the city code for medical marijuana facilities.

Now, after having time to reflect on what he said and how it was interpreted, the former Missouri state representative has no regrets. Dougherty has no plans to apologize or retract his statement.

And he is rebuffing calls for his resignation, telling The Star: “Maybe my words were misconstrued.”

They weren’t. Video from the meeting was streamed live and posted on the city’s YouTube channel. His words were not taken out of context. And what, exactly, would be the more positive, well-meaning interpretation of painting all shop owners of Middle Eastern descent with such a broad brush and suggesting they need to be more aggressively regulated?

Perhaps, given the lack of civility amid a deteriorating political climate in this country, Dougherty’s insensitive stereotyping should not come as a surprise. But his comments are still profoundly offensive — and they should be called out.

All the more discouraging is the lack of concern from fellow Independence City Council members John Perkins, Tom Van Camp, Mike Huff and Mayor Eileen Weir, none of whom have repudiated Dougherty’s statement.

Their silence is telling.

Only council members Scott Roberson and Karen DeLuccie have publicly denounced Dougherty’s remark.

“Mr. Dougherty speaks for no one but himself,” DeLuccie said. “His comments regarding Middle Eastern individuals were inappropriate. I was shocked when the comments were made. I was so surprised by the comments that I sat in stunned silence. I wish I had addressed the comments before the meeting ended.”

DeLuccie added that Dougherty should apologize. And she’s right. A sincere show of remorse and recognition of offense would be a constructive first step.

The Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, called on Dougherty to resign, saying that his bigoted statement was evidence that he’s unable to represent a diverse constituency.

DeLuccie, though, is not calling for her colleague’s resignation.

“We live in a representative democracy, so the voters who elected him are the ones who can elect to change their representation,” she said.

An elected official should know better than to disparage an entire group of people. But Dougherty sees nothing wrong with what he said.

Councilman Roberson said Dougherty’s words were in poor taste, but suggested that questioning the honesty of an entire ethnic group was not racist.

“It’s not helpful,” he said. “But it’s not racist. Racist has a much different meaning. We shouldn’t be offended by others’ words.”

Actually, we should be offended when elected officials make bigoted statements. And Dougherty and of his fellow council members need to address this issue directly, instead of just hoping that this controversy will eventually fade from view and be forgotten.

Next election, voters should remember Dougherty’s inappropriate remarks — and the other council members who had nothing to say when he crossed the line at a public meeting.

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