When state Rep. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, wrote to the White House protesting offensive comments by a George W. Bush appointee, he didn’t expect the president to call him for a chat. But Thomas, state senator-elect from Detroit and current top Democrat in the Michigan House, did expect at least a thoughtful letter of response. Instead, he received an apparent form letter two sentences long thanking him for his input.
“It sums up their level of commitment to the issue of civil rights,” says Thomas, whose letter objected to comments made by civil rights commissioner Peter Kirsanow. In his missive, Thomas requested that Kirsanow either be removed from office or reprimanded for his statements during a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing held in Detroit in July to gather testimony from Arab-Americans and others concerned about civil liberty issues since Sept. 11.
Kirsanow defended Bush’s “homeland security” actions, saying, “if there’s another terrorist attack and if it’s from a certain ethnic community or certain ethnicities that the terrorists are from, you can forget civil rights in this country.” He went on to say that America might again see camps similar to those created during World War II to hold thousands of Japanese-Americans, and that nobody will “cry in their beer” over ethnically based detention, interrogation and the like since American safety is at risk. Kirsanow’s comments sparked outrage, especially among local Arab-American leaders. Kirsanow was quoted later as saying he didn’t advocate internment camps, but meant he wouldn’t be surprised if they were established, given American sentiment. Either way, Thomas says Kirsanow’s words are unforgivable and Bush should care. “The letter I sent to George Bush was on a very serious matter for me and to Arab-Americans and to anyone who believes in civil rights,” says Thomas. “From my standpoint, a government official, especially someone charged with protecting the civil rights of all Americans, should want to say, ‘I will make sure this won’t happen again ever, period.’” Thomas says he was once a congressional aide paid to respond to letters, and has enjoyed real dialogue with the Clinton administration and various U.S. senators and representatives. He was surprised at the sparse Bush response. Says Thomas, “I thought it was a joke, to be honest.”Send comments to [email protected]