Newell Normand was angry, and he deserved to be. Addressing a press gathering, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff announced that Ronald Gasser, the admitted shooter in the road rage death of former football player Joe McKnight, had been booked for manslaughter. Days earlier, Gasser had been allowed to go free for what seemed to be a multitude of legal technicalities. At the time, Normand warned that the investigation wasn’t over and that no one should jump to conclusions. Aggravating the situation was that Gasser is white and the victim was black. Incredibly the incident happened just as an apparently similar case, the road rage murder of former Saints player Will Smith, was going to trial. In that case the gunman was black but was never released before the trial.

Why Gasser was allowed to go home for a few days involved legal questions, but there was never any doubt that he would be back behind bars soon. Nevertheless, the situation quickly drew race-based criticism.

At his press conference, Normand read vile and profane comments that were as mean as they were ignorant that had been made about him, the sheriff’s office and Jefferson Parish politicians. The language was so rough that the media couldn’t quote any of it, but certainly anyone listening to Normand got the idea.

His ire illustrates a modern problem. The internet has created great opportunities for folks to exchange ideas, but there are people out there, many of them, who just don’t know how to communicate. Instead of civil discussion, they think that ugliness is a prerequisite to disagreement. Because of the elusive quality of the internet, they get away with writing statements that could easily be grounds for libel. They don’t rely on facts or provide evidence of what they say. Likely, they have no idea just how hurtful their comments can be.

That is too bad, because the internet, through blog comments and social media, could be such a force for bringing people together and to exchange ideas. That might work best, however, for sharing recipes or for gardening tips. When the topics are politics or race people get mean, just when we need sanity the most.

Vile comments have a chilling effect on those who want a quality exchange of ideas.

We propose that all the nasty commenters should form one common website where they can ravage each other all day, but they should leave civil discussion for the grown-ups.
We have the tools for global communication. All we need now is a populace with the mental skills.