Yolanda Young, CNN, February 20, 2014
It’s happening again.
Moments after the jury in the “loud music trial” returned with its verdict against Michael Dunn–guilty on three counts of attempted murder and a mistrial on charges of murdering teenager Jordan Davis–a rash of commentaries began popping up.
Writers are now expressing the kind of trepidation and angst that would have us believe that black children are not safe because a white man is lurking around every corner, waiting to shoot down a young man minding his own business.
I’m not sure if these public voices reflect or inspire the outrage, sadness and fear resounding among black people on social media and article comments. What I do know is that African-Americans’ fear that black boys are being hunted down at every turn by white men is just as toxic as the fear white people have of the black boogeyman.
Such histrionics create an irrational, unproductive fear for those mainly interested in driving up news ratings, tilting elections and increasing donations to special interest groups.
Indeed, John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, found (PDF) that of the 53,019 homicides from 2005 through 2010, white-on-black homicides accounted for only 3.9%, while black-on-white homicides were 8.77%. White-on-white and black-on-black homicides accounted for 44.14% and 43.18%, respectively.
Still, this narrative has been in high drive since the public first learned how Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. In the two years since, black parents have added “beware white gunman” to the long list warnings they issue to their black sons.
Much of modern-day talk centers on the reality that store clerks, police and people generally do view black men with suspicion, says analyst Corey Dade. But the headline of his NPR essay “Florida Teen’s Killing: A Parent’s Greatest Fear” is overwrought.
So too was Jeannine Amber’s piece in Time magazine after Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“We may never know exactly what happened the night Zimmerman shot Martin, but black parents know this: A neighborhood-watch man saw a brown-skinned teenager–a boy who could have been one of ours–wearing a hoodie pulled up against the rain and assumed he was up to no good,” Amber wrote.
“That suspicion set into motion a chain of events that left the boy dead. How do we protect against that?”
What happened to Davis and Martin were freak incidents, not unlike a plane crash, rare disease or natural disaster.
Starting the discussion with a presumption that such an event is a probability carries its own dangers. It presupposes white people–men in particular–have a pathology as great as the one put on black men: that they are violent beasts.
We can’t justify feeling imperiled by the idea that white men are gunning us down while rejecting sweeping generalizations regarding black men, some of whom are responsible for many of the murders in urban cities.