Nutter's war on words

Posted: March 20, 2013

By George Parry

You have to admire the nerve of Robert Huber, the intrepid writer who dared to present a white perspective on Philadelphia race relations in this month's issue of Philadelphia Magazine. His article, "Being White in Philadelphia," explores white Philadelphians' attitudes about black residents and crime, asking what, if anything, they are allowed to say about these subjects in public.

Apparently they'd better not say anything. At least that's the position taken by Mayor Nutter, who, having lost a battle with his inner Mussolini, has directed the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission to investigate and "rebuke" Huber and the magazine for raising these issues. It seems some views are just too awful to appear in print.

You may recall the Human Relations Commission from its last major quest for justice, l'Affaire Bifteck de Fromage, in which it pilloried the late Joey Vento for posting a sign at his sandwich shop telling customers to order in English. For this exercise of Vento's First Amendment right to free expression, the commission launched the Mother of All Rebukathons, subjecting him to hearings, a fine, and an official, Red Guard-style denunciation. You would have thought Vento had turned fire hoses on his non-English-speaking customers.

As best as I can tell, the Human Relations Commission exists to ensure that no one says or does anything that might intentionally or unintentionally upset or offend any member of a racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, or cultural minority. But is the eradication of hurt feelings a legitimate function of government in a free society? Should the commission and Nutter be in the business of retaliating against those who express controversial ideas?

Nutter likens Huber's article to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, as if its publication threatens to rend Philadelphia's social fabric. Really? Are the city's race relations that volatile? Or are Nutter's dire rhetoric, over-the-top condemnation, and fascist antics merely an effort to score political points?

Outside the fevered confines of Philadelphia politics, free and open discourse on sensitive subjects is considered a hallmark of civilization and a valuable way to resolve differences. By that measure, Huber and Philadelphia Magazine have rendered a service by airing smoldering attitudes and beliefs long ignored by the mainstream media.

They may render an even greater service if this exercise of their constitutional rights succeeds in exposing the shameful mechanisms of our city government that exist to stamp out any expression that isn't politically correct and officially sanctioned.

George Parry is a former state and federal prosecutor practicing law in Philadelphia. He can be reached at

comments powered by Disqus