A media show trial


Sean Connery in The Untouchables ridiculed bringing a knife to a gunfight. Worse still is bringing a gun to a fistfight. 

The disproportionate response to a scuffle and the hasty drawing of conclusions about a young man he knew nothing about are among George Zimmerman’s sins. They are among the sins of George Zimmerman’s denouncers, too. 

The Cerberus of the Retreat at Twin Lakes may or may not ever face a jury for killing seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida one month ago. He has already been found guilty in the kangaroo court of public opinion. The New Black Panther Party’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters featuring Zimmerman suggest that some have already sentenced him to death. Condemning Zimmerman’s vigilantism, Spike Lee tweeted the man’s home address and the New Black Panthers called for an army of 5,000 black men to apprehend the unindicted neighborhood watch captain. The group’s Mikhail Muhammad announced, “If the government won’t do the job, we’ll do it.” 

Isn’t that what Zimmerman thought?

Like Zimmerman, many of Zimmerman’s condemners leap off shaky premises to groundless conclusions. “Blacks are under attack,” claims Jesse Jackson. Louis Farrakhan tweeted, “Soon and very soon, there will be retaliation.” A headline from the online news affiliate of Radio One reads, “White-on-Black Murder in the New Millennium Is Rampant.”

 Blacks are indeed under attack, but their attackers are almost always other blacks. African Americans are six times more likely to be the victims of homicide than whites. In about nineteen in twenty murder cases with an African American victim, the perpetrator is also African American.

Black-on-black murders, like the overall crime rate, have been declining for decades. But it’s still the case that if you are murdered in America, your murderer is likely to be a young African American male, not an overzealous neighborhood do-gooder doing bad by playing policeman. That murder-demographic reality may have tragically stoked the suspicions of the suspicious triggerman. 

African Americans commit roughly seven times the number of homicides as whites. Despite constituting less than 13 percent of the population, black offenders carry out more than half of the murders in the United States. For reasons easy to deduce in our minds but difficult to speak with our mouths, CNN doesn’t devote hour-long Saturday night specials to cases where young black men murder whites, Hispanics, Asians, or other blacks with Saturday Night Specials.   

Saturation coverage of the Sanford, Florida tragedy is a form of propaganda, insidious in both its presentation of a distorted picture of reality and its inflammation of race hatred in the name of fighting racism. Black-on-black crime doesn’t conform to the script, which casts blacks as victims. So journalists, who are mostly white, bypass crimes in which African Americans are victim and villain. 

No doubt the Anderson Coopers and Rachel Maddows imagine this as a sort of benign neglect that serves to muffle anti-black stereotypes. But the price of white journalists feeling good about themselves is underclass urban blacks dying without notice. Like white racists, white journalists don’t pay much attention to the plight of most African American crime victims. Throw into the equation white lacrosse players or a gated community’s Hispanic paladin and their cameras can’t look away. 

As the media transfixed on the Trayvon Martin killing this past week, a Boston jury handed down a verdict in a quadruple murder case largely ignored in all but the surrounding news environs. Hoodie-wearing drug dealers dragged five African Americans, including a mom studying to be a cop and her two-year old, into the street, stripped several of them naked, and shot them execution style. One victim, now a quadriplegic, survived by playing dead. The closest thing to a protest occurred when a man heckled a prosecution witness as a “snitch” and a “rat” in the courtroom. The jury acquitted one defendant and couldn’t reach a verdict on a second one. 

The name Amani Smith, the two-year-old executed in Boston, never made it into the New York Times. His killers were black. All the news that’s fit to print is all the news that fits the narrative.