Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, gave a statement on the company’s course of action during a press conference last Monday. Haslam Pilot Flying J employees deserve our prayers and patience. Photo by Dan Andrews.

By Steve Hunley

The entire community has been abuzz since FBI and IRS agents descended upon the Pilot Flying J headquarters.  It has been one of the biggest news stories in decades and it appears some have been delighting in the situation.  The sharks began circling just as soon as there was a hint of blood in the water.

Let me be very clear; politically, I have been on the opposite side of the Haslams on many issues. However, I am proud to say that I supported Bill Haslam for mayor twice as well as for governor.  Oftentimes I have had fundamental differences over what I believe is best for Knoxville and Knox County.  That having been said, I am still more than able to recognize the benefits of having Pilot Flying J headquartered  in Knoxville.  I also realize just how much the Haslam family has done for Knoxville.  They have been exceedingly generous with their time and money, believing that it is  very important to give back to their community.

It is an unfortunate aspect of our society today that our politics are so polarized and are becoming more so with each passing day.  There was a time when success was admired, not reviled.  There was a time in this country when people understood that successful businessmen and women employ others, helping them to enjoy a comfortable living and their own part of the American Dream. Over the past several years though, much of that has dissolved with many folks believing that they have somehow been cheated out of something by those who are more successful.

It has always been true to some that the best tax is one somebody else pays, yet from which they derive a benefit. Wealthy people have unfairly  been stigmatized as greedy and unfeeling, while those with less many times feel that they are somehow more noble and that they know what’s best for society as a whole, whether they work or not.  It has become popular with certain segments in our society to clamor for more and more from the government and to soak the rich to pay for it.  Those same attitudes have been seen before in this country in tough times and is reminiscent of Huey Long’s “Share the Wealth” program, which was, not surprisingly, enormously popular with people who did not want to work.

The current delight by some with the investigation of Pilot Flying J has surely brought misery to the Haslam family and that is not cause for celebration, but rather reflection.  It is not for me to say if there has been any wrongdoing or who, if anyone, is guilty of anything.  That will be sorted out in the days to come.  The folks employed by Pilot Flying J are human beings, real flesh and blood people.  They are folks who shop for groceries, attend church, and want the best for their children, just as we all do.  These people are our neighbors, friends, and, in some cases, family.  They help make this community a better place to live.

The Haslams are people, too.

The rush to judgment in our society today reminds me all too well of one of the ugliest aspects of our country’s history; the presumption of guilt and the feeding frenzy that frequently accompanies it is the foundation of every lynching that has ever occurred in this nation.  With all the technology available today, our world has grown smaller and some people use every available means to spew hatred and vitriol, all in the name of sharing their views.  The presumption of innocence until proven guilty seems to have all but faded away entirely.  Yet there is not one amongst us who would not decry the public abuse  of the presumption of guilt if it were a member of our own family.

Judge Roy Bean habitually hung just about everybody, whether guilty or not.  The Haslam family doesn’t deserve universal condemnation; rather they should be treated like human beings and they deserve our prayers and patience.

If anyone has broken the law, I feel sure they will be held accountable.  Nor do I believe anyone is above the law; presidents have fallen and, if wrongdoing has occurred, there will indeed be a time when the wheels of justice begin to turn.

In the meantime, we all should treat the Haslams and the employees of Pilot Flying J as human beings, friends, and neighbors.  Say a little prayer for them, just as you would hope someone would say a little prayer for you when you need it most.  Judge not, lest ye be judged.