By Edmund W. Lewis, Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly –
Uptown New Orleans resident Timothy Reily touched off a firestorm of anger and criticism recently when residents throughout the city learned of several signs on his property that portrayed President Barack Obama in a negative light. The signs on Reily’s property include one billboard with an image of President Obama in a diaper, another of the president in a dunce cap and a third that suggests the president is being controlled by George Soros, who the sign describes as a “Puppetmaster, Communist and Antichrist.” That same sign describes Obama as a “Puppet, Socialist and Incompetent Economy Wrecker.”
“It disrespects the nation — and President Barack Obama represents our nation,” longtime community activist Skip Alexander said outside of Reily’s home in the 1500 block of Calhoun Street Wednesday. “He represents everybody, not some people.”
“This is nothing put pure racism,” community activist Raymond Rock told WWL-TV. “This is a disgrace.”
Among those who spoke with Reily in his home at the intersection of Calhoun and Coralie streets were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who would not comment on what was said in a meeting with Reily, and New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who did in fact speak with the media after a conversation with the homeowner.
Guidry, who was accused of being racist last year by an opponent in the City Council District A race, told reporters that she didn’t convince Reily to take down the controversial signs. She added that she planned to research whether the signs are legal and voiced concerns about how the reaction to the signs would impact public safety. She said that whatever steps are taken to resolve the conflict would have to take into account Reily’s free speech rights.
“We have to determine that there is a zoning law that prohibits perhaps the size of the sign, perhaps the way that it’s erected, that it is leaning over onto public property,” Guidry told reporters. “Whatever we can use, we will, but of course, we do have to balance that with First Amendment rights.”
“I think it’s fine. It’s on his property,” Katherine deMontluzin, one of Reily’s neighbors, told WWL-TV. “He can say whatever he wants.”
Radio talk-show host Kaare Johnson, a friend of Timothy Reily, stepped into a hornet’s nest when he showed up at Reily’s home to voice his support for the homeowner’s right to free speech.
“If the community chooses not to accept it and the neighborhood group finds it not appropriate, it will come down,” Johnson told the protesters. “Right now it’s within the law, it’s within the law. Y’all just don’t agree with the opinion.
“I’m taking up for the right for him to have this sign,” Johnson added. “Whether I agree with him or not is irrelevant.”
Johnson was surrounded by angry protesters, one of whom repeatedly called him a “white boy,” “racist” and “peckerwood.”
“We want to find out about his business interests,” community activist C.C. Campbell-Rock told Johnson. “We want to drive him out of business.”
An unidentified protester said that those who disagreed with the way Reily chose to exercise his right to free speech should exercise their right to boycott all products associated with the businessman.
He said that to the best of his understanding, the owner of the sign is related to “The Reily Foods Company that sells Luzianne Coffee, CDM Coffee, French Market Coffee, Luzianne Iced Tea, Swans Down Cake Flour, Presto Cake Flour, Old Dutch Salad Dressing, TryMe Sauces & Seasonings, La Martinique Salad Dressings and Blue Plate Mayonnaise.”
“You’re wasting your time,” Johnson told them. “He’s honest, hard-working guy who’s not racist. He doesn’t like the president. He doesn’t like liberals, that’s it. He’s a Republican. That’s his way of sending out the message. It could be Clinton up there.”
“If anybody had swastikas with one of the Jewish rabbis in the same position up there, how long do you think that sign would be up there?” community activist Raymond Rock asked Johnson.
“You’re going to compare the president in a diaper to swastikas?” Johnson shot back.
“When it happens to Jewish people it’s a tragedy, but when it happens to us it’s not so much,” an unidentified Black woman told Johnson.
“Why do you say ‘us’ like you represent all Black people?” Johnson asked the woman. “I got Black friends — you do not represent them, I promise you.”
“If you’re Black and this doesn’t upset you, you need to check for a pulse,” Ruth Washington, a pharmacist who lives in Gentilly, told The Louisiana Weekly. “This is a wake-up call to everyone in the Black community who has bought into that bull about a post-racial society after President Obama was elected and a colorblind New Orleans.
“Every day we see more proof that white people in New Orleans and across the country are making moves to marginalize and control Black people,” Alexander continued. “The sad part about it is that many of us see it and do and say absolutely nothing about it.”
Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former Congressional candidate and Internet radio talk-show host, told The Louisiana Weekly that he witnessed a man he believes to be Reily come out of his home Thursday morning and get into an argument with several men standing outside of his home. Reily reportedly got into a heated argument with one of the men, who was Black, and the two men exchanged expletives, Aha said.
Timothy Reily told WRNO Friday morning that he is not a racist and has Black friends. He also said that he has turned over security tapes to determine who removed several posters supporting Black GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain from his property and who attempted to remove the anti-Obama signs. The businessman added that he has the cell phone numbers of several members of the New Orleans Police Department and will use them if he has any more trouble with protesters who cross the line.
“If you look at the location of the signs and you see the area of the city that they’re in, that’s an area of the city that has some of the more influential residents,” attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The virulence of the sign, the mockery that it’s making out of the position of the Presidency — that’s something that I haven’t seen (before). I think that there are some racial overtones to it. It tells the city that because the man that put it up felt comfortable enough about putting it up and that there wouldn’t be repercussions from his neighbors and his circle of friends — that tells me that in the broader area maybe other folks might not be saying the same things out in the open but when he’s among his friends and neighbors behind closed doors they have made him feel comfortable enough that he put that up in front of his house. It is indicative of the problems that still exist in this city.
“It’s encouraging that just like that man exercised his constitutional right to put that sign up — and yes it could be classified as political speech, which is a protected area of free speech — those who disagree with his opinion are exercising their constitutional right to make their opposition known,” King continued. “That’s good to see folks out there doing that.
“Hopefully, some of this activism will translate into activism on October 22,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “From the news accounts, this man has identified himself as being someone with a political party affiliation. If he is indeed someone that has money and his political beliefs are so strong that they have moved him to spend money to put up this billboard, that’s telling me that his political feelings will encourage him to contribute to candidates. And if he’s going to contribute to a candidate, common sense would tell me that he’s going to contribute to candidates that share his political views. Hopefully, folks out here will see that we have people that have such a strong opinion and have money that are going to fuel the candidacies of candidates that share their opinions. In addition to galvanizing us and getting us out on protest lines, hopefully it will also let us see that one of the things that we need to do is look at candidates ourselves and see if they are candidates that share our opinions about issues and help finance their campaigns. We need to let this incident translate into something that will help the community. We can let our emotions burn us up, or we can take that incident and let our emotions drive us to do things in addition to coming out and marching in front of someone’s home.”
“The underlying issue here is a fundamental lack of respect for the Office of the President of the United States,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha told The Louisiana Weekly. “That disrespect is the byproduct of the anger and frustration some white Americans still feel about the fact that a nation intended to be a white, Christian republic controlled by wealthy white men has allowed an Ivy League-educated Black man to rise to the top to become America’s first Black president.
“What this gentleman — and I use the term loosely — and all the others who have attacked President Barack Obama are saying is that it really doesn’t matter if you’re a highly educated, well-mannered elected official or a ditch-digger who can barely read — the color of your skin trumps everything else in America. If you’re Black, you belong at the bottom of society, no matter what.”