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Joe Henderson: We’re heading for a defining showdown in the battle against hatred

in 2017/Top Headlines by

Sometimes you just have to get away, and for the last month or so I tried to do just that. I really did. I went to the U.S. Virgin Islands to watch my oldest son get married, and I highly recommend the island of St. John to anyone considering a Caribbean trip.

It’s the place to go if you want to unplug for a while.

To be honest, though, the events of last weekend prove that suspicion, hatred and mistrust doesn’t take a vacation. Neither does racism, so here we are — still fighting the Civil War, with some Republicans still making excuses for Donald Trump, and with Democrats still unable to turn all of this into a coherent vision of how things would better if they were in charge.

This time it was Charlottesville’s turn to be in the bullseye of the insanity that seems to be boiling toward an eruption that can only deepen the divide that exists in this country. The same level of hatred and violence that was on display there could easily have happened in any major Florida city though.

For instance, the debate is still raging in Tampa over what to do about the Confederate war statue that is being moved from its current location in front of the county courthouse. As Mitch Perry reported for SaintPetersBlog, a new survey by St. Pete Polls showed a majority of Hillsborough County residents support the county commissioners who voted to keep the monument on public property.

Yes, that will be an issue when Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Sandra Murman run for new commission seats in 2018.

There’s a guy out by the junction of Interstates 4 and 75 in Tampa who for years has flown a humongous Confederate flag, visible to thousands of motorists driving past it every day. I wonder how many people quietly give that display a thumbs-up when while motoring down the road. I’m thinking that number would be a lot higher than many of us want to believe.

It has been encouraging to see many prominent members of President Trump’s party condemn is tepid response to the hate on national display in Charlottesville. On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said it was important for the president to describe the events there for what they are — a terror attack by white supremacists.

Gov. Rick Scott noted, “We must be very clear — FL stands against all forms of racism & bigotry. The hatred displayed in VA is despicable & has no place in America.” And House Speaker Richard Corcoran wrote, “We must fight against evil whatever form it takes….”

Good words, all.

It’s going to take more than a few well-expressed tweets to really change attitudes though. Bigotry is a learned behavior, reinforced by decades of ignorance and suspicion, and now it has a toehold with a president who seems oblivious to the damage he is causing. Alt-right supporters have already vowed that Charlottesville was just the first act in the chaos they have planned.

This is heading for a showdown, folks, in the streets and at the ballot box. The outcome will define who we are as a people.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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