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Reinforcing the self-serving myth that black killers choose white victims because they are white

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The predictable happened as soon as the race of the three teens charged in the Oklahoma slaying of Christopher Lane, a young white Australian baseball player, was known. Two are black.

The cry immediately went up yet again that whites are in dire peril of being victimized and likely killed by young blacks. There is not a shred of evidence or even a hint that Lane’s killing was racially motivated. The teens themselves could only say that they killed him and that he happened to be an accessible and convenient target.

This in no way minimizes the horror and tragedy of their alleged act, and prosecutors wasted no time in filing charges against them as adults. Oklahoma is a tough death penalty state, and it’s almost certain that the death penalty will loom large in consideration of the sentences of the two black teens that are charged with first-degree murder in the killing, their age notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s annual figures on homicide rates in America repeatedly show that of the thousands of killings in the nation annually, only a minuscule number of whites are killed by blacks. The plain fact is that whites are likely to be killed by other whites, blacks by other blacks.

Yet it’s because interracial killing, more specifically black-on-white killing, is so rare that it lends itself to fear, sensationalism and hysteria. The clamor even extends to the press.

It’s now become a ritual for right-wing bloggers and talk show hosts to browbeat the national media for supposedly clamping down with a wall of silence in black-on-white killing cases because journalists fear inflaming racial tensions, and are scared stiff that they will be called racist for talking up black-on-white crimes.

Yet when whites assault or kill blacks the press and civil rights leaders supposedly leap over each other to blare it out as headline news. This supposedly proves that the national press is somehow in collusion with civil rights leaders to cover up the an epidemic of black-on-white killings.

This is false. The accusations are a self-serving and cheap ploy to knock the press and civil rights leaders. Yet the horrific killing of Lane does cast a troubling glare on an aspect of violent crime in America that isn’t much talked about beyond race-baiting digs at the media and civil rights leaders. And that’s the reasons that blacks do kill whites.

Even though the numbers are small, a higher proportion of whites are likely to be killed by blacks than whites killing blacks. As in the Oklahoma slaying, there is no evidence that the killings are racially motivated. Whites are targeted because they are perceived to have valuables in the home: cash, a luxury car or other conspicuous objects of value that criminals seek out and that poor blacks aren’t likely to have.

In other words, these killings are almost all cases of garden-variety street crime. The alleged Oklahoma teen shooters prove that point. There is no talk about “getting” whites in their Facebook page rants, but rather an exulting of the pseudo-tough guy, gangster lifestyle.

In trying to determine whether to prosecute an interracial killing or attack as a hate crime or not, prosecutors have to figure out whether there is racial animus in the crime. For an instance of black-on-white violence to be ruled a hate crime, the prosecution has to prove that a black perpetrator intentionally targeted a white victim solely because of his or her color.

It takes hard evidence of racial taunts, threats, writings or statements by the perpetrator to prove race was the motivating factor in an attack. In the absence of that evidence, the charge that the attack was a hate crime won’t fly.

The suggestion that the national press engages in cover-ups to quash discussion of killings committed by blacks of whites because it’s afraid to offend blacks is just absurd. The better explanation is that crime news is so routine that many people never hear about a killing unless the accused murderer is O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, Robert Blake or a big-name celebrity, or if — as in the case of the alleged killers in Oklahoma — the accused are teens, and the explanation they give as to why they killed is so jaw-dropping and senseless that it alone insures that the incident will become a leading news story.

Still, black-on-white violence anywhere stirs fear among some whites that crime-prone blacks are out to get them, and will seize any opportunity they get to commit violence against white people. When blacks say or do nothing about these attacks it is taken by some as a tacit signal that blacks put less value on white lives than on black lives. This is ridiculous.

But that won’t stop some from screaming loudly that the killing of Lane proves there’s a double standard in interracial killing cases. There’s nothing of the sort, but his heartbreaking death will unfortunately reinforce that belief.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.