published Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Cook: Fishing and talking

Before we bring up the president's visit (See Barack City!), let's talk about fishing.

"Your column ... was one of the dumbest things I've ever read," the email began.

Last week, I wrote about four local men -- each from Mexico, here without papers -- who were handcuffed, arrested and taken to jail this summer by a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer for fishing near the Chickamauga Dam without a license. My point was twofold:

• To show the absurdity of arresting -- arresting! -- someone for fishing without a license.

• To suggest the punishment would have been different had the men been of different skin color.

"You are an idiot," the email began, "wrapped in a moron."

My inbox, Facebook, voicemail got swamped, the equivalent of dynamite fishing: Boom! and suddenly I'm surrounded by so many angry words.

"Cram it," the man began, "up your little brown ..."


The Chattanooga fishing community was enraged. Some began a boycott. I started checking under my tires for treble hooks. But like a man who's thrown a dinner party that ends with everyone getting sick, the whole mess led me to re-evaluate and re-examine just exactly what I had served up.

I listened and talked. Heard different perspectives, other stories. What I thought was true was becoming less so. The last straw came with my good friend, also a TWRA officer. A man among men, not a bad bone in his body, he said this:

"I would have arrested them, too. Citations don't work when no one has an ID. Didn't matter what color they were or weren't."

That did it.

I think I was wrong.

After all, opinions aren't permanent, stuck in concrete galoshes and forever sunk to the bottom of our political dialogue. They ought to be fluid, alive; such words -- I may be wrong on this -- ought to come easily. Or, at least, after much thinking and rethinking.

Please: Don't read into this any newfound claim that people of color don't face discrimination in ways large and small. Especially Latinos. Especially here.

Nor did my change of mind come from YELLING emails, silly threats or messages telling me to stick the column where the fish don't swim. They all did just the opposite. (But hey, I, too, have been mad before.)

My opinion softened because of friends and strangers who let me see I didn't know the whole picture ... and did so with respect, honesty and civility.

Which brings us to the president.

And how we talk to each other these days about politics.

"When was the last time anyone from the other side of politics changed your mind about an issue?" a friend asked recently.

Not often. You? Didn't think so.

Because the dialogue we use or hear others use -- from one side of the aisle to the other -- is near-absent of anything constructive, healthy and creative. We've become political bottom-feeders, reducing our speech to something base and divisive, continuing to reach into the tackle box for the worst of all lures: insults, stereotypes, eye-rolling, the inability to listen.

No wonder so little gets solved.

No wonder we are deeply angry with one another.

(No wonder the Lincoln Memorial got vandalized last week.)

Sure, I'm part of an American Media Machine that revels in division. But not all of us go along with it. My hunch is you don't either.

You may like Obama or not. Conservative, or you lean left. Who cares.

What matters most is that we the people rediscover the ability to put down our fists, listen to one another and craft dialogue using certain things.

Patience. Intelligence. Silence. The ability to know when things are working, and what to do when they're not.

Which, not surprisingly, are the same things you need to catch fish.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
jesse said...

Well i went back and re read the comments on tfp and while most were somewhat OUTRAGED at your stance on this none were really over the top!

You musta got hit hard on facebook!

T.W.R.A. enforcement officers are prob. the most "by the book" cops around!As they should be!

July 28, 2013 at 6:42 a.m.
rsimms said...

I have a lot of respect for a man who has the guts to say, publically, "I was wrong." Thank you. I hope the folks who were outraged by David's July 21st column will be as equally appreciative of this change-of-heart, inspired no doubt, by the many people who helped him see the error of his words the week before.

July 28, 2013 at 1:09 p.m.
bswan said...

Thanks for having the intestinal fortitude to apologize! TWRA wildlife officers are some of the best in the US. So, next time, take a breath before berating them!

I might not tell the telemarketing folks what I think of you and your paper next time they call.

And, by the way, don't forget to apologize for that stupid NRA comment!

July 28, 2013 at 6:11 p.m.
Liveliner said...

Thanks for your words.. Hopefully you will start to understand that we as real ethical sportsmen and women have worked hard hand in hand with TWRA to achieve what we have available... We generously Share what we have to offer, However, we get rather offended when anyone feels they can just take without following the simple guidelines. Invite the President to go fishing below the Dam.. That will prove we are Fair to all when he gets arrested for no ID.

July 28, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.
LLewis said...

Nice recovery!

July 28, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
Einus said...

The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don't mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do. John Ruskin

July 29, 2013 at 5:27 a.m.
jesse said...

NOT EVERY THING that happens to folks of color is because of RACE!

It's an easy out to blame everything on racism!

July 29, 2013 at 8:11 a.m.
dkbrantley said...

Getting folks riled up about fishing, only to admit fault on your own part later on? Priceless.

For everything else, there's MasterCard.

Thanks for being willing to hear what folks say and changing. Something we could all bear to learn.

July 29, 2013 at 11:18 a.m.
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