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Al Sharpton’s public career was founded on racial controversy, and on hearing that he was coming to West Memphis, some expected him to worsen an already bad situation.

“We must not be upset for just two weeks and then let it go on,” Sharpton told the crowd. Instead, he was wise, restrained, even inspirational, at DeAuntae Farrow’s funeral. “We’ve got to stand together and fight for justice. If it takes a march, we’ll march. If it takes a boycott, we’ll boycott. If it takes a vote, we’ll vote.” A prescription as American as apple pie, and the sort of thing Americans used to hear from Martin Luther King, who died just across the Mississippi River.

Farrow was the 12-year-old black boy shot and killed by a white policeman who said he thought Farrow was holding a gun. Farrow wasn’t. A State Police investigation of the shooting is under way, but even if the State Police find the individual officer not culpable, the notion that the system is culpable will continue until changes are made. And changes are more likely to occur if the black community keeps the heat on through the tactics Sharpton identified. To have a heavily white police force in a town that is heavily black is no longer practical. More black police officers are needed at West Memphis, even if a lowering of the normal standards is required. In cases like this, lower standards are the lesser evil.

Deregulation fails

The notion of a “liberal media” is hooey, broadcast by the real, conservative media to disguise their own bias, or to justify what’s beyond disguise.

A new study of talk radio, conducted by the organizations Free Press and the Center for American Progress, shows that liberals can’t get a word in edgewise. As of spring 2007, 91 percent of the political talk radio programming on the stations owned by the top five commercial station owners was conservative. Ninety-two percent of these stations didn’t broadcast a single minute of progressive talk.

The deregulation of radio has resulted in local station owners being driven out by a few giant corporations who decide what all of America can hear. Too often, that’s reactionary babble from the ignorant and uncivil, people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. The country should return to the days when companies were limited in the number of stations they could own. Clear Channel owned 40 stations before passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Now it owns 1,200. Also needed is reinforcement of the old rule requiring stations to provide some degree of public service. That a station makes big money for its owner does not justify its use of the public airwaves.

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