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Posted: 9:23 PM- Sen. Chris Buttars was a no-show tonight for a meeting with leaders of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, calling the event a "cheap shot."
NAACP boardmembers expressed disappointment that Buttars didn't meet with them, but renewed their call that the West Jordan senator resign.
Buttars - under siege for a week after saying of a bill he opposed, "This baby is black . . . It's a dark, ugly thing" - said he wanted to meet with the NAACP board, but told them hours in advance that he wouldn't attend if the media was invited.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP, said she was disappointed he didn't attend, and that the organization would do everything in its power to force him to resign.
The organization also blasted Buttars for telling The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday that he has become a target of a "hate lynch mob" because of e-mails he has received condemning his remarks.
"The man knows nothing about what a lynch mob is," said Edward Lewis Jr., the former regional president of the NAACP, holding an article about a lynching in 1925 in Price. "It's an insult for the man to say he's being lynched when we know what real lynchings are."
Buttars was baffled by the reaction.
"Lynch mob is a Western term. You wouldn't find one person in 10,000 in Utah that thinks that's a racist term," Buttars said in a phone interview this evening. "That's not a racial term in my opinion. How do I know what words I'm supposed to use in front of those people?"
Buttars statements tonight added to Williams' frustration with the senator.
"At first I thought maybe it could be a generational thing," said Williams, "but I know folks who are much older than he is who don't talk that way and don't refer to 'those people,' and 'lynch mob,' and 'babies that are black are ugly.' "
In a speech last week, President Bush said that "the era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history."
"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice. Displaying one is not a harmless prank. And lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest," Bush said. "As a civil society, we should be able to agree that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive. They are wrong. And they have no place in America today."
Tonight's episode is the latest and most direct exchange of words between Buttars and the NAACP, which called for his resignation last week after his black baby comments.
Lewis, holding a picture of his grandson, Edward Lewis IV, said he was disappointed that Buttars didn't show up, "because I wanted to deal with him face-to-face."
"There is a gap between what you perceive your children are versus our children . . . I dare Senator Buttars to refer to my black grandson as something ugly," said Lewis. "He wouldn't have said it if I had been standing there. He wouldn't have said this is a black, ugly baby."
Buttars said in an interview Monday he misspoke, that he never meant to offend and felt sorry for the hurt he caused. He said he planned to meet with Williams to discuss the situation.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had worked with Williams to set up a meeting and they had agreed to meet privately with the executive committee this evening, Buttars said. But Williams later told him that the meeting would have to be open to the press.
"I wanted to talk to them very candidly and frankly," said Buttars, but despite coaxing from Shurtleff, Williams refused to meet privately. "So I said, well, I'm not coming, and I end up the bad guy on TV again. . . . We had a deal and they changed it."
But with television cameras and newspaper reporters on hand, Williams said she was disappointed that Buttars did not come, although she wasn't sure what he could have said to change her mind about resigning.
"We are tired of being used as the punching bag of America. . . . It's inexcusable," said Lewis. "I think he needs to ride off into the sunset."
Buttars said he doesn't think the group cares about his explanation. "At the end, they say, 'It doesn't matter what he has to say. We're going to go after him anyway,' " he said.
In recent days, Buttars has slowly begun emerging from seclusion. On Monday, he granted his first media interviews and presented a bill on the Senate floor today - a measure that criminalizes viewing child pornography.
Senate leadership said Monday that it believes Buttars' statement was not malicious and allowing him to apologize for the statement last week was the appropriate action.