RACINE — The Racine branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says a Republican State Leadership Committee mailer attacking John Lehman is using race to play on people’s fear of crime.
The two-sided ad, which a committee spokesman said was sent to 10,000 homes in the district, features two depictions of criminals. One side of the ad says “You’re not safe. Thanks to John Lehman,” and shows a shadowy photo of a what appears to be a white man attacking a light complected woman. The reverse side calls Lehman out for supporting legislation that allegedly “allowed dangerous criminals out of prison before their sentences were complete,” and bears an image of a hooded figure whose face cannot be seen.
Lehman is running against state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, in the June 5 recall election.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the local NAACP said the mailer was inflammatory in nature, and “meant to feed on individuals’ fear of the races.”
Although the mailer has a depiction of a white criminal and the actual face of the hooded figure cannot be seen, local NAACP President Gloria Rogers said the ad still has racial connotations.
“The first thing that came to my mind is the hoodie and Trayvon Martin,” Rogers said. “It is trying to make people afraid of being around of young black males. What else could a black person think when they look at that?”
Rogers also said the ad lends itself to “race baiting and fear mongering” since she believes that it was mostly sent to predominantly white areas of the 21st Senate district.
The RSLC sees things differently.
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Spokesman Adam Temple said the group, which he said works to elect “down ballot” Republican state officials like legislators and secretaries of state, sent out the ad purely to illustrate “that Lehman’s record is not exactly good when it comes” to crime. That’s all.
“If you look at it there is clearly no face there,” Temple said, calling Rogers’ take on the image unfortunate. “It is an attempt to sketch what a criminal looks like.”
When asked if whether people could interpret the image of the hooded figure as representing a black person, Temple said,”I guess. The most recent clichéd image of a hoodie is Mark Zuckerberg, so you can make all kinds of connotations.”
Wanggaard is not affiliated with the RSLC. The NAACP has asked the Republican lawmaker to “refute” the ad since its attacks on his Democratic opponent are aimed at helping his campaign. Lehman is also asking Wanggaard to disavow the ad and ask that it no longer be distributed.
“It is the most racially suggestive, terrible attack ad that I have ever had sent against me,” Lehman said.
Temple would not say whether the RLSC has plans to send out any more of the mailers.
“We don’t get into our strategy this close to the election,” he said.
Wanggaard’s campaign could not immediately be reached Wednesday night.