Dozens of readers are reacting to Sunday's article on Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, and to the subsequent piece today detailing the sheriff's apology for broad comments that he said reflected on "the legal and law abiding Hispanics." Both articles ran in prominent positions on the front page of The News & Observer's print editions and on the newsobserver.com home page.
Many of the comments on the Web site are supportive of Bizzell and defend his views. Many others are not. A few readers questioned why the paper gave such prominent coverage to a man whose opinions they found odious. A sample of a comment from a reader speaking for herself and her spouse:
"Neither of us could believe that this man's ugly opinions--sounding more like a throwback to Jim Crow than anything else--were considered front page news. Worse, they were reported without any real counterweight."
I respectfully disagree that the article did not contain any information contrary to Bizzell's opinion.
But first, a word about why the original article ran in our paper. Bizzell has been an enthusiastic participant in the effort to use local law enforcement agencies to help deport illegal immigrants. His views on the issue and of different classes of people are important. He is a law enforcement officer, and by definition, has enormous power in the manner in which he deals with people in his jurisdiction.
The original article, by our demographics and cultures reporter Kristen Collins, was fair to Bizzell and to people on both sides of the immigration issue. Collins took pains to explain the context of Bizzell's opinions and the fears of some of his constituents. Her article included facts. She noted statistics showing that more than a third of drunken driving charges in the county in the last five years were made against Hispanics. She also reported that the county's crime rate has declined at the same time that the Hispanic population has grown. She also included information on taxes paid by Hispanics, including those here illegally, and their contribution to the local economy.