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January 19, 2000
'Many of us do not want to join African Americans in any protest'
A P Kamath
Carrying placards which, among other things, said, 'Ted Turner Speak Up,' at least 20 Indians joined the 180 protesters on Tuesday in front of CNN headquarters in Atlanta demanding that baseball pitcher John Rocker be suspended for his racist remarks against Indians and other Asians, African Americans and gays and lesbians.
Rocker is a relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves which is part of the Time Warner conglomerate. Ted Turner, the media mogul who founded CNN, took the Braves to Time Warner when his business merged with Time Warner.
"It was pouring for most part of the day and yet dozens of people joined the protest and we got a lot of media coverage," said Subash Razdan who carried the placard, 'Let us respect diversity and pluralism.'
Razdan is chairman of the trustees of the National Federation of Indian Associations. The protest was held on Tuesday because Monday was Martin Luther King Jr day and is celebrated in Atlanta with great fanfare. The organizers of the protest did not want to detract the media from the King holiday celebrations.
About 60 per cent of the protesters were African Americans, who were joined by gay and lesbian coalitions, Chinese, Koreans and Hispanics
But some Indian Americans said they were disappointed at the small number of Indians at the protest.
"Many of us do not want to join African Americans in any protest," said one protester who asked for anonymity. "The Mahatma would have joined the protest."
"We forget that we are reaping the fruits of the civil liberties victories African Americans won for all minorities in the 1960s and 1970s."
Rocker, in an interview with Sports Illustrated last month, had said: 'The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?'
When an uproar followed and the story made front-page news in New York and Atlanta, Rocker said he was contrite for making the statements, but insisted that he was never a racist.
Reflecting the sentiments of fellow Indians including Anthony Taliath, vice-president of the NFIA, and Jaykumar Patel, regional vice-president of the organization, who joined the protest, Razdan said the lack of action against Rocker reflects badly on corporate culture. Rocker has been ordered by the Atlanta Braves to undergo psychological testing. But that is too little, his critics say.
"All right, Rocker said awful things about Indians and other minorities, but he is 25," Razdan said.
"But what about the top managers at Atlanta Braves and Time Warner, why have they not suspended him?" he asked. "Why has Ted Turner been silent?"
Razdan was asked by a reporter if Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and one of the most influential of African American leaders, could forgive Rocker, why could others not follow Young?
'The Atlanta way has been, we do make mistakes, none of us is perfect, but we have got to learn to live together,' Young has said. 'Nobody's going anywhere. When we make mistakes, we help each other up.'
Young, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, wrote an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggesting that Rocker should be given a dose of Gandhian philosophy and encouraged to undergo an inner transformation.
But many African American and Asian organizations have dismissed Young's counsel.
"I repeated to the reporter what I have been saying for over a week," said Razdan. "We will also forgive Rocker. But there must be some punishment."
"Let there be just punishment," he continued. "Let the learning and healing process start later."
Patel said the community was upset at the response (or "lack of response") of the Braves. "They have not acted swiftly," he said. "A mere reprimand will not do."
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