Explosion at the NAACP Offices in Colorado Springs – What It Should Require of Us

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January 7, 2015; The Hill

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said he was “deeply troubled” by the detonation of an explosive device at the office of the NAACP chapter in Colorado Springs. Without making too much of the incident, attributed to an as of yet unidentified white man, there are reasons to be troubled.

As Lewis tweeted, that “these stories cannot be swept under the rug,” but that is what seems to have happened. The incident happened on January 6th. Although there were plenty of devastating and important news stories on the 6th and the 7th, the NAACP office bombing barely seemed to have gotten a mention on the nation’s 24-hour news cycle a full day after it happened.

Everyone was being cautious about the incident—the NAACP chapter president was described as “hesitant” to call it a hate crime; the FBI saying only that a hate crime was “one possibility” among many as a possible explanation. The national headquarters of the NAACP issued a statement that called for a “full and thorough investigation” of the bombing, also not calling it a formal targeting of the NAACP chapter or a hate crime, but former national NAACP chairman Julian Bond showed no reticence, declaring it “obviously…a terrorist attack.”

Nonetheless, more than a day after the incident, only CNN had briefly mentioned the bombing on the air, while MSNBC and Fox News had ignored it entirely. Maybe it was because of the negligible impact of the explosion, the crude device having apparently partly misfired; maybe it was because there were no casualties to film being carried out of the offices, but the 24-hour news cycle seemed to relegate the bombing to near non-story status. There was, however, lots of coverage of the billboard that went up in Harrison, Arkansas, sponsored by a Klan leader named Thomas Robb, reading “It is not racist to (heart) your people,” but not about an actual bombing. Unless the bomber was actually an unhappy customer of the neighboring hair salon, it seems that Bond is correct that it was a terrorist act, and making and placing a crude bomb is a lot more meaningful than paying for a crude billboard.

Colorado Springs is known as the home base for some of the nation’s most politically conservative evangelical organizations and churches, including James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the New Life Church (which survives despite the famous sex and drug charges against founder Ted Haggard), Compassion International, and the Navigators. In this very politically conservative community (with registered Republicans outnumbering Democrats two to one), the bombing of an NAACP office takes on special significance. Colorado Springs is the kind of community whose leaders—including those in very conservative circles—talking about the NAACP bombing and explaining the tragic history of such bombings in the history of civil rights would mean a great deal, perhaps much more so than in a politically and socially liberal community.

Last November, the head of the Colorado Springs NAACP chapter, Henry Allen, Jr., talked about the riots that had occurred in Ferguson as well as the police shooting of Michael Brown. He described the riots as “disheartening to see” but said he understood that citizens felt powerless about the behavior of the police and therefore “act[ed] out in anger.” He noted he would rather not have to be in a position to discuss a questionable police shooting, but said that “the reason that [the NAACP] exists…[is] because there’s a need” for people to discuss issues of race. To have that conversation in Colorado Springs in the wake of the attempted bombing of the NAACP office seems like it would be appropriate, instructive, and meaningful.—Rick Cohen