We didn’t do this in retaliation for Hatcher’s decision to hold 20 employees of this newspaper hostage on Feb. 1, 1988, as a way to draw attention to what he perceived as widespread government corruption. We ignored Hatcher because we didn’t find him credible, nor did we believe he had a constituency.
But with Hatcher’s death on Friday, now is the time to examine his legacy — and there is no question that Hatcher and his partner Timmy Jacobs helped transform this county. But was it for better or worse?
Because we never want to see an act of violence rewarded, it is with reluctance that we concede that Hatcher and Jacobs’ actions brought scrutiny on this county that probably accelerated change for the better — primarily the sharing of powers among minorities. A tangible example is the Superior Court judgeship now held by an American Indian that was created for a minority by then Gov. Jim Martin as a way to pacify this county. Since that time, Indians and blacks in this county have grabbed more of a share of the steering wheel.
But that change didn’t come without a price. Hatcher and Jacobs’ actions suggested to outsiders that ours was a racist, violent and drug-infested county. For years that sullied image complicated economic development efforts — and the irony became that those who suffered the most were the most vulnerable among us, whose plight Hatcher and Jacobs said they were trying to change for the better.
This county still carries that weight.
Then there is this: Although it is generally accepted that there was widespread corruption in Robeson County during the 1980s, Hatcher and Jacobs failed to provide the proof. In taking those hostages, Hatcher and Jacobs assumed a duty to provide evidence of their claims, and their inability to do so made putting people’s lives at risk unforgivable.
And please don’t suggest that Operation Tarnished Badge, which occurred under a different sheriff a decade and a half later, vindicated Hatcher and Jacobs. Hatcher and Jacobs were not talking about Sheriff Glenn Maynor, yard work and satellite cards.
We must also look at how Hatcher lived his life after Feb. 1, 1988 — and that was recklessly. By his own admission, he contracted AIDS in prison through consensual and unprotected homosexual sex, and that eventually killed him. He died in prison not because of what happened at this newspaper, but because he murdered another man in a drive-by shooting.
Compare that with how Jacobs has lived his life since leaving prison, by staying out of trouble while trying to effect positive change for American Indians by working with — and not against — the system.
We don’t believe their numbers are strong, but those who insist that Eddie Hatcher is a hero of American Indians not only have a convenient blind spot, but do a disservice to the real champions of Robeson County’s native people.