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Truth Must Trump Loyalty To Race Or Ethnicity

Helen Ubiñas

April 18, 2010

Well, this wasn't the column I thought I'd be writing when I walked into the swearing-in ceremony for the city's first Latino fire chief, Edward Casares Jr., last week.

But then a couple of women wondered loud enough for me to hear what the traitor was doing there while I looked around to see who they were talking about.

"Probably looking to criticize another Latino," one sniffed right about the time I realized they were talking about me.

It wasn't as though I was considered a friend of my people, they agreed.

Annoying and exhausting, but not exactly the first time I'd heard this — especially from supporters of embattled Mayor Eddie Perez.

Depending on the day, I'm either a self-loathing Puerto Rican, a puppet manipulated by The Man or I'm harboring some personal vendetta against the mayor. And isn't that what Team Perez is going for in El Jefe's corruption trial with their pointed questions about a newspaper with an agenda, and their plan to call a former Courant reporter to the stand?

Reporters write stories to sell papers, Perez's defense team prodded potential jurors during last week's jury selection.

Can't believe everything you read, right?

But hey, if that's not a tired enough defense for you, there's their other standby: the race card.

Team Perez made a big deal about the possible absence of minority representation on the jury making it impossible for the mayor to receive a fair trial. It's why on the second day of jury selection his attorneys fought hard to keep a Hispanic man, who also happened to be a part-time bail bondsman.

"Your honor, we are now picking [the rest of] the jury based on the fact that we have a Hispanic juror," Attorney Hubert Santos told the judge after she upheld their pick over objections by state prosecutors.

Fair enough — that's their job. And there's a case to at least debate the idea that a person of color can't get a fair trial from an all-white jury. The family of Jashon Bryant, a black man who was shot and killed by former city police Det. Robert Lawlor, who is white, certainly thinks so. Bryant's family has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil-rights investigation into Lawlor's acquittal.

But this idea that if you happen to share the same ethnicity as someone it's "hands off" is not only insulting, it's racist.

What's the thinking here — that a person of color can't, or won't, see beyond a shared skin tone to do the right thing? Or worse, that the right thing is to represent your race regardless of where the truth lies.

We shouldn't expect more from our leaders of color, but we absolutely should not accept less.

Fresh from his day job as criminal defendant, Mayor Perez was front and center at Casares' ceremony at city hall. As Hartford's first Latino mayor, Perez said it was especially poignant to help swear in the city's first Latino fire chief.

It is quite an accomplishment, and I wish Casares well.

But here's the thing: Being first isn't enough. Being Hispanic or black or Jewish or a woman doesn't mean you get an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card. You have to answer for what you've done.

And this blind loyalty based on color or race is not only outdated, it doesn't give those that aren't indebted to Perez for their jobs or their political power credit for their ability to see through skin tone, to the truth.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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