A piece in yesterday’s Times. Critics of Neeson appear to have focused primarily on the issue of alleged racism. I haven’t seen a single criticism of him on the grounds that following a friend’s unsubstantiated claim that she’d been raped, he was prepared to kill a man at random.
The New York premiere of Liam Neeson’s film Cold Pursuit was cancelled last night after an outcry over his racially charged remarks this week.
The actor has denied being racist for wishing to revenge the rape of a friend by killing any black man, saying that he would have targeted an “Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian” in the same way.
Neeson, 66, appeared on American television to respond to outrage over his admission that he had set out to kill “some black bastard” 40 years ago after a friend, who has since died, was raped by a black man.
He told Good Morning America on ABC that he had been driven by a “primal” and “medieval” desire for revenge and that he had been so shocked by his anger that he sought help from a priest. He said his desire for revenge had been informed by the violence he had experienced growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
“We all pretend we’re all politically correct,” he said. “In this country, and same in my own, sometimes you scratch the surface and discover this racism and bigotry.
Saying he hoped his confession would encourage others to discuss their prejudices, he said: “I’m not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago, but because I was brought up in the North of Ireland I was brought up in the Troubles in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. There was a war going on and I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles.
“The bigotry — one Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed, one Catholic pub would be bombed and a Protestant pub would be bombed. I grew up surrounded by that, but I was never part of it.”
Neeson insisted that he would have reacted similarly if his friend had been raped by a white man. “If she had said Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, it would have had the same effect,” he said. “I was trying to show honour to stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion.”
Neeson was praised by John Barnes, the former Liverpool and England footballer turned anti-racism campaigner, who told Sky News: “You can’t blame Liam Neeson for thinking what he feels, and this is a while ago, because this is what society has shown him that black people do. This is what society has wrongly shown him, this is what the media has wrongly portrayed to him.”
Neeson had expressed shame and horror, Barnes noted. “As much as people are jumping on this bandwagon of how terrible this is, what he’s done is he’s come out and he’s told the truth.”
Neeson made the comments during an interview with The Independent to publicise his new film Cold Pursuit, in which he plays a man set on revenge against the drug dealers responsible for his son’s death. After being told of the rape, he said, he “went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody — I’m ashamed to say that — and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something so I could kill him.”
Organisers called off the film’s premiere hours after Neeson’s appearance on ABC.
The actor’s comments were widely condemned on social media. Detective Sergeant Janet Hills, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association in London, told the BBC: “It’s disappointing that he has said . . . people will take a different view as to whether he is right or wrong. But, when I align that with policing, that is why it is so key that we use intelligence-led policing to identify individuals and not profile a whole community.
“Because there are specifics in his case. There was a specific person that committed that. It wasn’t just any black man on the street. And that is why it’s really key that we use, and continue to use, intelligence-led policing.”
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