Trayvon Martin, Bob Dylan, and Racial Harassment: Opposing the Demagogues
Trying to write a column about race and crime is somewhat like trying to walk gingerly through a minefield. Trying to write a column about race and crime when you’re white is rather akin to running through a minefield with heavy snowboots on. And trying to write a column about race and crime when you’re a white conservative is entirely like stomping through a minefield while covered in gasoline, holding a lit match, and hooked to a Kevorkian machine.
In other words, there’s a good chance it’ll be the end of you.
Yet still, since we have an attorney general who has berated Americans for being “cowards” for not speaking honestly about racial matters, I will forge ahead through this minefield, content in the knowledge that Eric Holder’s admonition to the country is all I’ll need to shield me from any criticism this article engenders (um, right?).
We don’t know exactly what happened in the immediate moments leading up to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on February 26th. We don’t know to what extent George Zimmerman provoked Martin, or to what extent Martin’s anger at feeling “followed” by Zimmerman helped turn the confrontation physical.
At this point, we just don’t know.
But what we do know, what is clear from the 911 tapes, and from a phone call between Martin and a female friend, is that Zimmerman, against the wishes of police, was trailing Martin, and Martin, who was aware of his “tail,” was feeling unwelcome merely passing through a neighborhood on his way back from the store.
And if that’s all we know with certainty at the moment, that’s more than enough. Because, to the multitudes of angry black community leaders and politicians, the “big picture” here is the fact that Martin was made to feel as though he had no right to simply walk, unmolested, through a local neighborhood. When conservatives attempt to argue that there is no “bigger picture,” that this is simply the story of the actions of one man (Zimmerman), and possibly the reaction of another man (Martin), bringing about a terrible tragedy, many black Americans would answer, “no, it’s a bigger story than that – we feel unwelcome, we feel threatened, when we pass through certain neighborhoods.”
Indeed, that was the point of the lead story on the NBC Nightly News on March 21st – the “victimization” that black Americans encounter when passing through unfamiliar or “white” neighborhoods.
The Trayvon Martin incident is the type of story that liberal black politicians and “community leaders” count on in order to reinforce the “group victimization”-think that the left has fostered in the black community for decades. Unlike the economy, unemployment, foreign policy, the national debt, gas prices, or healthcare, this is the kind of issue guaranteed to get typically non-vocal black Americans angry, energized, and marching in the streets. Indeed, in the past two days, I have seen angry posts on Facebook from every single one of my left-leaning or apolitical black friends. Folks who haven’t posted word-one about politics since congratulating Obama on his election victory, have been brought to vocal anger by the Martin story.
That “group victimization” seed, planted and so lovingly watered by the left year after year, is again bearing fruit. President Obama understood this when he decided to comment on the case from the White House. Others are commenting, too. “Blacks are under attack,” screamed Reverend Jesse Jackson. Black people are “being hunted down, beaten and lynched” by “everyday citizens,” Al Sharpton wrote in the Huffington Post, adding, “I’m still waiting for the day that young black men and women can walk freely in any neighborhood without fearing for their lives.” Not to be outdone, Louis Farrakhan cryptically threatened “retaliation” for the Martin incident.
What I intend to argue here is that perhaps what we all need at the moment is a bit of perspective. That sense of “victimization,” of not feeling welcome in a strange city or town, or in your own city or town, of feeling “at risk” simply because of your race when all you’re doing is carrying out the mundane chores of your daily life, is not uniquely black.
One bit of “perspective” I’d like to start out with is that, in the wake of Martin’s death, the blogosphere has exploded with liberals rewriting the lyrics to the Bob Dylan songs “The Death of Emmett Till” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” in honor of Martin. What nobody has pointed out is that Dylan himself – a white dude (and Jewish, depending on when you catch him) – was subjected to the exact same type of thing that initiated the Martin tragedy. In 2009, while Dylan was walking through a predominantly minority community in New Jersey, on a break from his tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, worried residents called the cops to report a strange man in their neighborhood. The police didn’t recognize Dylan, and they demanded that he take them back to his hotel to prove that he wasn’t up to no good.
Dylan politely complied. No screams of being “hunted down by everyday citizens.” It was a simple case of concerned neighbors who mistook the famous (and famously disheveled) music icon for a potential ne’er-do-well.
Let’s get some more perspective. In the months surrounding the Martin incident, there were dozens of examples of people of other races being subjected to harassment while simply going about their daily lives.
March 18th, O’Fallon, IL: A fifteen-year-old girl with her arm in a cast left her mother’s home at 9:30pm to retrieve her dog, who had gotten loose. Two black girls approached her, stating “This is our territory white girl.” They beat her repeatedly about the head and pulled out chunks of her hair, only stopping after neighbors heard the commotion and scared the attackers away. No arrests have been made as of the date of publication of the linked news story.
March 15th, Kansas City, MO: A fifty-year-old white man who was simply walking home from the store was beaten unconscious by a gang of black youths who used racial epithets during the attack. They did not rob him; they beat him for the sake of it. An officer found him lying on the ground, with multiple injuries. No arrests have been made as of the date of publication of the linked news story.
March 9th (the date of the news story; the actual date of the crime is described as “about two weeks earlier”), Pittsburgh, PA: A white man walking home from work was assaulted from behind by a group of black youths in hoodies. The man suffered head injuries, and was nearly run over after being pushed into the street. One of the youths was videotaping the incident. No arrests have been made as of the date of publication of the linked news story.
February 28th, Kansas City, MO: A thirteen-year-old white student who was walking home from school was accosted by two black teens wearing hoodies, on the street near his home. One of the attackers poured gasoline over the boy while saying, “This is what you deserve. You get what you deserve, white boy.” The victim suffered burns to his face, and damage to his eyes and lungs. No arrests have been made as of the date of publication of the linked news story.
February 14th (date of first news report; the actual date of crime was not provided), Palm Bay, FL: Three black juveniles physically assaulted an autistic fifteen-year-old white student who had been doing nothing more than waiting at a bus stop in his neighborhood. The three juveniles used racial slurs and chased the boy into traffic, where he was nearly struck by a car. The three attackers then posted video of their crime on Facebook, which led to their arrest (the three have been charged with hate crimes and aggravated stalking).
January 28th, Center City, PA: At around 8:25pm, three black teens descended upon a cab that was stopped at a red light. They pulled the passenger, a white male, out of the car, and beat him while screaming racial epithets. When the cab driver, who was also white, attempted to intervene, the attackers began to beat him as well, calling him racially derogatory names. Both men sustained various injuries to the head, face, and body. Police refused to file hate crimes charges against the three attackers.
January 17th, Olney, PA: A sixty-four-year-old white Vietnam veteran, who was doing nothing more than walking down a street to meet his wife at a bus stop, was mercilessly beaten by a group of black youths in hoodies. The victim suffered multiple head injuries, including a broken jaw and fractured eye sockets. Thanks to surveillance video of the incident, a fifteen-year-old has been charged with attempted murder, assault, recklessly endangering another person, terrorist threats, and conspiracy.
January 10th (the date of the first news story about the incident, which happened several weeks earlier), Portland, OR: A fourteen-year-old white girl who was riding on a light-rail train was beaten by three teenage black girls who yelled racial slurs, as spectators watched and cheered. Three girls, aged eighteen, sixteen, and thirteen, have been arrested and charged with third-degree riot, second-degree disorderly conduct, harassment, and interfering with public transportation.
January 6th, Ocala, FL: A mixed-race white/Hispanic middle school student was viciously assaulted by a group of black students while riding a school bus. The victim, while attempting to find a seat on the bus, had been ordered to sit on the floor by black students, who told her their section was “off limits” to her because of her race. The victim was attacked by five girls and two boys, all black. The girl was beaten unconscious, given a concussion, and now suffers from seizures. The attack was captured by bus surveillance video, and the attackers arrested. All felony charges were dropped, and the attackers have thus-far been given sentences of probation, curfew, community service, and having to write a 500-word essay on “the importance of maintaining appropriate behavior on a school bus.”
To be clear, none of the above events ended as tragically as the Trayvon Martin incident did. And until the authorities have had more time to investigate the circumstances surrounding the shooting, it’s not wise to speculate on how Martin and Zimmerman came to physical blows, or whether the local police made the right call by not arresting Zimmerman. That’s why I wanted to stay focused on the “bigger picture” issue – the feeling, expressed by so many African-American protesters and leaders, that black people are uniquely under siege – “under attack,” as Jesse Jackson put it – by whites who provoke, harass, and assault them for simply being in the “wrong” neighborhood, walking the “wrong” way, wearing the “wrong” clothes, etc.
Yet, as we’ve seen, a cursory examination of the months surrounding the Martin incident shows nine separate cases of white people being attacked for doing nothing more than walking down a street, searching for a lost dog, riding a train, or waiting for a bus.
Now, this is the type of post in which it’s very much to my advantage to explain my point as best I can, especially if I want to exit this minefield unscathed. And my point is this: We – that is to say, all Americans – are at risk, in different ways, of being made to feel “unwelcome” because of how we look. But the people who do more damage than the thugs and bigots (of all races) are the exploiters and ideologues who attempt to convince one group of Americans that a different group of Americans is at war with them. This cynical tactic does nothing more than create division, and a siege mentality which – itself – can lead to further tragedies, because when people lose perspective and begin to see individual humans not as individuals but as representatives of a “bigger picture”…well, that’s when perspective gets lost.
So let’s retain a little perspective. Every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, can sit around and fume about the wrongs that the “others” have done to his or her “kind.” Or, we can make a conscious choice to reject those who preach division and victimization-think.
Maybe that’s the “big picture” we should be looking at.