Racial politics the lowest blow, but this time missed

We think we know the never named private party who supposedly expressed an interest in buying the Angel Exchange building at COMtech, prompting the county’s now-over dalliance with purchasing it for use as a central office.

He is a older, white guy from Parkton. Retired military. Might have a Ronnie Patterson sign for sheriff in his yard.

If you have been following along, you get the joke, though you might not find it funny. We doubt that Burnis Wilkins was slapping his knee at the lie that he stood before a crowd in Parkton and used two racial epithets — and we struggle to imagine a lower blow.

We challenge the accuser’s existence, but should he live and breathe, he should be easy to find as Parkton has about 400 residents, and we doubt there are more than a few fitting that profile. If you read this, Mystery Military Man, come to our office at 2175 Roberts Ave. in Lumberton and tell your story. It, and your photo, will be on page 1A. If Wilkins truly said those words, this is your duty.

Had Wilkins not had the forum videotaped, that stain could have stuck, and the smear tactics that are part of the fabric of Robeson County politics — where hauling uninformed and easy-to-manipulate voters too often trumps qualifications and actual ideas — might have prevailed.

We conflate the two lies because they are based on the same truth: There are powers in this county who find much of the public so gullible that they are willing to present the laughably absurd as unimpeachable.

It is your prerogative to believe Wilkins is a racist, but we would hope that it would require evidence beyond his pale face. But know this: If Wilkins, during a law enforcement career that spans five decades, had been sued for the wrongful death of a young person of color who died handcuffed and in his custody, his candidacy would have ended before it began. Even if it had been dismissed.

We knew this sheriff’s campaign would be nastier than most, and we can cross our fingers that it has reached its nadir.

There aren’t consecutive days that pass that we don’t get an unsigned letter or email or whispered phone call about scandalous or illegal actions by this candidate or that one that the provider insists is perfect for page 1A; further, our unwillingness to publish is cited as evidence that we support the other guy. It’s not that we look the other way, but we prefer the campaign to be decided on the now, and not what may or may not have happened a decade, two, three and even four ago.

In this instance, whoever made up the lie and circulated it is responsible for the invitation this newspaper extended Wilkins to use our front page to rebut the story. He was well-armed, not only by two exculpatory videotapes, but by introducing to the public his campaign manager, a black woman who is married to a Lumbee. We have also fielded multiple calls from people who were at the Parkton meeting who said Wilkins didn’t use racial epithets, and all have been invited to send a letter for publication making that clear. That is up to them.

But a rebuttal should not even be required: Who really believes that a sheriff’s candidate in a tri-racial county, in this age where everyone has a cell phone capable of video recording, is going to make a racist comment in a room filled with some folks he knows and more he doesn’t?

Here is our pledge: When we become aware of such specious allegations, we will chase the truth, and if we find out they are contrived, will pin them on the guilty party to the degree that is possible, while also providing the accused front-page space to tell his or her story.

It might not clean up this campaign to the degree that we should all hope for, but perhaps it will help. It should give pause to anyone who would again create and then circulate a lie of the magnitude that was used to try to torpedo Wilkins’ campaign.