Perhaps the two most visceral issues of our modern political era collided last week in the words of Greenfield City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud — immigration and gun violence. While defending her Safe City Ordinance, which essentially prohibits local law enforcement agents from being co-opted and used as federal immigration agents as well as stopping Greenfield officials from making arrests based on perceived immigration status, Renaud spoke about being more afraid of “straight white guys” with weapons and bad intentions than undocumented immigrants.
“I am far more scared of the straight white guys with semi-automatic rifles willing to go into shopping malls, Walmarts, and movie theaters and blowing us all up to pieces,” Renaud said at an August 21 meeting. “I am far more scared of some of the straight white guys who come here and talk to us and are rude or send extremely rude emails. (Emails that go) to the point of telling me I should go to a prison like they had in Germany and I will, once Trump becomes president. You scare me and some of my colleagues up here, but you know what? There’s not a single undocumented immigrant in this room that I have any fear of.”
As much as we are told that love conquers fear, it is icy fear that is at the heart of both of these debates — immigration and guns. The former is based on a tribal fear of “the other”; the latter looks to the capacity of humans to act in evil ways, and the weapons that allow them to do that. Fear is powerful, and commands much of our politics, local and otherwise.
At the same time, at least in the debate over immigration, there is the side of compassion, as well. Renaud and her fellow councilors — 10 out of 13 voted in favor of the Safe City Ordinance — voted to provide a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees regardless of their immigration status with the federal government. These are often people who have fled physical danger, poverty, and other threats in their home countries to come here for better lives for themselves and their families. And so many of us came to this country with similar stories; my own family fled Nazi Germany, and were lucky to get in to the United States — their lives depended on it. A Safe City Ordinance, as the vast majority of the Council rightly saw, is both a symbolic and a practical way to establish a welcoming place for vulnerable people who deserve compassion.
It is harder to have compassion for the white nationalists or those without a defined ideology who choose to go on killing rampages.
As to Renaud’s words calling out “straight white guys”? As a straight white guy myself, I don’t mind. So many of our debates today use coded and overt language to attack minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ community, those born in other countries, Muslims, Jews. Those that identify as I do need to get past the initial hurt these words inflict and understand that so many of our fellow humans deal with profiling language all the time.
Councilor Isaac Mass fell into the pattern of characterizing Renaud’s language as discriminatory, though pointed out to the Greenfield Recorder that he would oppose a petition for her resignation (how generous!). “We passed a resolution of respect and that I believe includes heterosexual, white males who have a license to carry, like myself,” he said at the same meeting Renaud made the remarks referred to. By referring to the race, gender, and sexual orientation of some who have committed horrific acts as well as personal threats to that councilor, Renaud makes clear that singling out a group like undocumented immigrants is not going to allay the real fears that someone may follow through on those threats. What Councilor Mass needs to understand is that straight white guys don’t have a monopoly on fearing others. They can be feared, too. As Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Sheila Gilmour said, defending Renaud’s words, “that’s not disrespect — it’s telling the truth.”
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.