Friday, August 23, 2013

Trayvon Martin vs. Chris Lane

When the germ of an idea crept into my head to write this particular blog, a little voice in my head whispered, “Are you nuts? It’s not worth it. Let it go!” Then another little voice shot back, “You coward! Write it already!” Yes, I freely admit that there are, in fact, voices in my head. So, here goes.

Earlier this week came news that Chris Lane, an Australian college student here on a baseball scholarship, was shot in the back by a group of bored teenagers, when he made the mistake of jogging down a quiet street in Duncan, Oklahoma. Now this morning comes word that Delbert Belton, an 88 year old World War II veteran from Spokane, Washington was beaten and killed by two young men as he was about to enter an Eagles lodge to play some pool. In both of these tragic cases, the victims were white, and the attackers were African American.

A firestorm of protest has arisen over the relative silence of the national media coverage of these two murders when compared to the 24/7 wall to wall “let’s have a conversation about race” diatribes that accompanied the Trayvon Martin case. Back then, before even an arrest had been made, our President was out in the rose garden reminding us that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. As of 7:12am this morning there has been no comment on these cases except for a press spokesman saying yesterday that he wasn’t aware of any murder in Duncan, Oklahoma. Similarly, in the days after the Trayvon Martin killing, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton screaming into a bullhorn demanding justice, in fact the most dangerous place to be in those days was standing between Jesse Jackson and a TV camera. With the killing of Chris Lane we only get a Tweet from the Rev. Jackson reminding us that shooting someone in the back is “frowned upon” in America, an odd formulation, to say the least since I would think that things which are “frowned upon” would include leaving your wet towel on the floor in the bathroom, or leaving the toilet seat up, not cold blooded murder.

Defenders of the comparatively tepid press response to the Chris Lane murder point out that it was clearly not a “hate crime” since the driver of the car containing the murderers was half white. Set aside for a moment the questionable assertion that “hate” can never be involved when both the killer and victim are the same race, it would appear that the press is moving the goal posts here. George Zimmerman was also half white, but when he pulled that trigger he became 100% white, since for the media, “Hispanic Murders Black Teen” doesn’t sell nearly as many newspapers as “White Vigilante Kills Adorable African American Honor Student.” So, if having a white mother and an African American father makes someone “white”, then why all the fuss about Barack Obama being our first African American President? That honor still goes to Bill Clinton.

The point of all this is that people need to stop complaining about the press covering racially charged murders differently depending upon the race of the victim. It is never going to change. The job of the journalist is to “speak truth to power”, and in this country white folks have the power. So when an 88 year old man who was shot in the leg storming an enemy position on Okinawa gets beaten to death by a couple of black men, while unfortunate, isn’t the kind of story that allows the reporter to launch into a discussion of America’s racist past. The cold blooded murder of an Australian baseball player by a couple of 17 year old gang bangers doesn’t exactly advance the narrative of African Americans as perpetual victims. Reporters in this country didn’t amass thousands of dollars in college debt just so they could write stories about white victims of black crime. These are not the type of stories that win Pulitzer prizes. Every New York Times reporter worth his salt dreams of the day when he arrives first on the scene of a tragic drive by murder of an African American nursing mother and child gunned down by a couple of “bored” 30 year old white investment bankers out joy riding in their stretch limo.

Here’s what I think. Anytime someone is beaten to death, or murdered, it’s a tragedy. The violent ending of a human life is always a terrible thing. When the victims are white suburban kids gunned down by other white suburban kids, it’s horrible. When the victims are black city kids murdered by other black city kids, it’s no less horrible. Whenever life is viewed as cheaply as it is in our world, we are all victims. Oh for the day when the Jesse Jackson’s of this world find the murder of ANYONE as something not to be “frowned upon” but to be outraged about.