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This tide of meanness needs to stop

“I don't see no Americans, I see trespassers, Irish harps doing a job for a nickel a nigger does for a dime and the white man used to get a quarter for.”

William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, a hardcore nativist who had a bald eagle in his fake eye, ranks among the most vicious film villains of all time.

His character, portrayed stunningly by Daniel Day Lewis in the 2003 movie “Gangs of New York,” led the city's white gangs in battle in the early 19th century against their Irish counterparts.

The Butcher (http://www. WuDE& feature=related) was skilled with sharp knives. He hated immigrants – especially the Irish – like cockroaches, and lived to smash them.

He made the “I don't see no Americans” comment to New York City's Boss Tweed as the two watched a shipload disembark on the city's busy waterfront.

Those words are made-up, of course. They were scripted for a character who was a man of his time – an era when the rule of law had not yet taken root in a young nation.

In its place, fear, bigotry and violence had melded in a lethal mixture.

“If only I had the guns, Mr. Tweed, I'd shoot every one of them before they set foot on American soil.”

Today's subtle bigotry

Such blunt menace would seem outrageous today.

Or would it?

Listen closely. The scapegoating aimed at illegal Hispanic immigrants in North Carolina right now may be more subtle, but it's no less fervent than the bigotry of Bill the Butcher. And it's just as dangerous and self-defeating.

“We have a destructive human tsunami headed our way,” said William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration, a political action committee based in Raleigh that pushes anti-immigrant legislation. “N.C. lawmakers must act now to protect American jobs, tax resources and lives. Our state must … batten down the hatches immediately.”

In Beaufort County, some 80 miles east of Raleigh, county commissioners asked the health and social services departments to count Spanish surnames to determine illegal immigrant clients. Commissioners want to cut off water service to households of illegal immigrants and scrap state and federally funded programs that cannot be closed to immigrants, such as health clinics and prenatal care for the poor.

“When you're a pregnant lady sitting there, that's a personal problem,” said commissioner Hood Richardson. “That's not a public problem.”

This tide of meanness needs to stop.

Don't let fear lead the way

An estimated 380,000 illegal immigrants live in North Carolina. It's true they broke the law to come here. It's true they put pressure on our publicly funded law enforcement, public schools and health care resources.

But they also perform jobs that are vital to our economy – and our communities. Most of those jobs are hard, dirty, repetitive and dangerous. That's why most of us don't want to do them.

Honestly? This change in our demographics is here, whether we want it or not. We need to take a deep breath and stop letting fear lead the way we respond politically and culturally.

“You can't fight forever,” Boss Tweed told Bill the Butcher.

“I can go down doing it,” the Butcher said.

“And you will,” Tweed replied.

And he did.