The Race Card: Nothing Ever Changes

I still remember the 1988 presidential election. I remember how popular George H.W. Bush was in the town my family lived in. I remember watching the news and hearing my parents talk about how despicable Michael Dukakis was for his stance on criminals. Recently, I decided to revisit one of the stories that came out of that race: Willie Horton.

Horton was never (and still isn’t) your everyday crook. He was cold, calculating, and enjoyed torturing his victims. On October 26, 1974, he and two friends decided to rob a Mobil gas station. The 17-year-old attendant, Joseph Fournier, didn’t argue or fight back; he immediately complied, handing over all of the money in the cash register, a total of $276.37. Horton’s accomplices were ready to go…Horton wasn’t, though. He pulled out a blade and stabbed Fournier nineteen times then stuffed his still-breathing body into a trash can. Fournier died in that trash can. The evidence was so overwhelming that Horton was sentenced to live in prison without the possibility of parole.

Massachusetts already observed a prison inmate furlough program at the time of Horton’s conviction, although for years inmates convicted of murder were not allowed to participate. That all changed twjo years later when governor Michael Dukakis vetoed a constitutional ban on furloughing first-degree murderers. He immediately began allowing violent offenders to be released on unguarded 48-hour furloughs. His reasoning was that the furlough program was important for rehabilitation.

Horton comes back into the picture in 1986 when he went on his tenth furlough and never returned (in all, at the time, 80 violent offenders were listed as having escaped from custody in Massachusetts – in fact, only four had really escaped, while all the rest had just not come back from furloughs or walked out of minimum-security pre-release homes). On April 3, 1987, Horton broke into a home in Oxon Hill, Maryland – but he left the home undisturbed, not taking anything. Cliff Barnes, who lived in the home, returned after work and never noticed that anyone else had been there. While he undressed in his room, he heard footsteps but believed it was his fiancee Angela. Blindsiding him, Horton attacked him with a pantyhose over his head; he savagely beat and pistol-whipped Barnes, then bound and blindfolded him, dragged him to the basement, and proceeded to torture and terrorize him. He slowly sliced Barnes’ torso open (a total of 22 times over a period of several hours) and threatened to strangle or hang him just to watch him die.

When Angela really did get home, Barnes listened helplessly and struggled against his bonds while Horton brutalized and raped Angela. Horton waited a couple of hours before attacking and raping her a second time. It was during this attack that Barnes managed to escape and run for help. When Horton realized that Barnes was gone, he stole their car and took off, leaving Angela alive in the house. Horton fled police in a high-speed pursuit before he was recaptured. The ordeal had lasted twelve hours. After Massachusetts petitioned to have their inmate returned from Maryland, judge Vincent J. Femia refused to return him, saying, “I’m not prepared to take the chance that Mr. Horton might again be furloughed or otherwise released. This man should never draw a breath of free air again.” Horton remains in a maximum-security facility in Maryland to this day, and in that state he is ineligible to so much as defecate without permission. He certainly won’t be furloughed anytime soon.

What was Dukakis’ reaction? He vehemently defended his decisions and the program that had unleashed Horton on the public. He has never apologized to the Barnes’s and, in fact, refused to meet with them after the fact despite their request to speak with him about their ordeal. He actually blew them off very publicly, openly saying he didn’t see the point in meeting with them. He brazenly refused to reverse the furlough policy. It wasn’t until the outraged public let him know in no uncertain terms that they were very angry over the results of the furlough program that he begrudgingly signed a popular bill into law that ended the release of violent offenders on furlough. By the time he gritted his teeth to approve the legislation, he had commuted the sentences of 28 first-degree murderers who had been sentenced to life without parole.

Not surprisingly, just two short years later Dukakis was called upon during the presidential debates to defend his policies that freed bloodthirsty criminals in Massachusetts. I didn’t understand at the time, but I know now what my parents were so upset about: Republicans were being accused of racism after an independent ad was produced supporting Bush over Dukakis:


Later, the Bush campaign produced a “revolving door” ad that featured about 30 extras. Take a look at it, embedded in a clip from a documentary that attacked Lee Atwater and the rest of Republican America as racists:


It is absolutely astonishing that Ishmael Reed can pick out the lone black man in that shot and point out that is appears he looks up at the camera menacingly and somehow deduce that the clip is overtly racist. No, it’s not just astonishing…it is insulting. What Reed (and Sam Donaldson, Dukakis, Turnipseed and Conason) is saying is that merely for bringing up the fact that Horton was a vicious rapist and killer, conservatives are all racists – all because Horton was black.

It is incomprehensible how so many people can actually come to this outrageous conclusion. All anybody cared about was the truth: that Dukakis was not interested in justice in the form of punishment, he was only interested in soothing his liberal guilt complex by being soft on criminals in the hopes that a little compassion would put them all back on the straight & narrow. He wasn’t just a little wrong, he was dead wrong.

Considering the outright lunacy of these claims (and all their faith in Saint Tookie and Brother Mumia), it’s a wonder they haven’t tried to claim Horton was innocent and call for his immediate exoneration and release.

This kind of race-baiting is exactly what is killing our ability as a society to move forward in the so-called “race discussion.” I don’t care if you’re white, black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian or Martian – in this day and age, it is entirely up to you to make yourself. Continuing to cry racism over every little thing that is said by those you disagree with only guarantees that the hard feelings will never go away. Personally, I’ve never had an issue with race, and I don’t see why we’re still screaming at each other over minutiae that we left behind decades ago. Every time it comes up, it’s because some uppity liberal can’t get their head out of their own rectal cavity long enough to keep beating the whole of American society about the proverbial head and shoulders about how evil we are for being racists (usually because some hapless conservative has had the testicular fortitude to question liberal stupidity on the level with Dukakis’ insanity).

The more things change, the more they smell the same. It’ll be a cold day in hell, though, before I sit by and accept things the way they are.