I have nothing to say about the murder of Christopher Lane.
The killing of this Australian man, allegedly by a group of boys who were bored and could think of nothing better to do, suggests chilling amorality and a sociopathic estrangement from the sacredness of life. The fact that these teenagers were able to get their hands on a gun with which to shoot the 22-year-old student in the back on Aug. 16 as he was jogging in the small Oklahoma town of Duncan leaves me embarrassed for my country — and thankful I am not the one who has to explain to his country how such a thing can happen.
None of this will satisfy the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who have written me emails demanding (it is always interesting when people think they can demand a column) that I write about this drive-by shooting as an act of racial bigotry, an inverse of the Trayvon Martin killing, if you will. There is a numbing repetitiveness to these screeds: Where is Jesse Jackson, they demand. Where is Al Sharpton? Where are you? Or as one subject line puts it: “Why no outrage!!!!”
Actually, I have plenty of outrage. Just not the flavor of outrage they would like me to have.
It is, for some people, a foregone conclusion that any time violent crime crosses racial lines, some kind of racial statement is intended. But violent criminals are not sociopolitical theoreticians and violent crime is not usually a social manifesto. With relatively rare exceptions — we call them hate crimes — the fact is, if a thug shoots you, it is not because you are white, black, gay or Muslim, but because you are there.
So is Lane’s shooting one of those exceptions? A case can be made that it is. One of the young black suspects, after all, tweeted his anti-white bigotry back in April. The hashtag: HATE THEM.
But a case can also be made that it isn’t. Of the remaining two suspects, one is reportedly white and the other, the alleged shooter, apparently has a white mother. The prosecutor told the Duncan Banner newspaper there’s no evidence Lane was targeted because of his race and in any event, bringing hate crime charges is a moot point. In Oklahoma, hate crimes are misdemeanors; the boys are already facing felonies.
Again, none of this will satisfy those dozens, if not hundreds, of email writers, not to mention the authors of similar screeds on right-wing websites. What they’re doing is simple. They are using tragedy to play a cynical game of tit-for-tat: “I’ll see your Trayvon Martin and raise you a Christopher Lane.” In other words, they want to use this tragedy to validate their view that white people are victims of black racism.
And if all that was meant when African-Americans decry racism is that sometimes white people do violence against you, then the email writers and right-wing pundits might have a point. But it isn’t and they don’t.
No, what is meant is that even when violence is done against you, you may automatically be considered the “suspect” and your killer set free. What is meant is that judges are harder on you, doctors less aggressive in treating you, banks more apt to deny you, landlords less likely to show you apartments, hiring officers more likely to round-file your application. What is meant is good luck hailing a cab in midtown Manhattan. What is meant is that other people will airily dismiss the reality of those things, or, as has many times happened to me, admit the reality but advise that you should accept your lot in silence.
Then in the next breath, those same people will ask you to empathize with how racially victimized they are. The sheer, blind gall of it beggars imagination.
Last week, Christopher Lane was killed for no good reason, apparently by three morally defective boys.
Sorry, but he’s the victim here. White America is not.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at email@example.com.)
AFP Photo/Brett Deering