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A hate crime is a hate crime no matter who commits it

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There’s no doubt Grafton Thomas committed a hate crime when he allegedly stabbed five people at a Hanukkah party in New York. He is an African American. There was a time when the two, a hate crime, and African American, were not only mutually exclusive but almost unthinkable. There was good reason. In the long vile, hideous history of racially motivated hate violence in America, African Americans have been the prime targets.

The legions of statutes, photos and various exhibits that depict gruesome lynching scenes and mob violence against African Americans at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama is gory testimony to that. But even before Thomas welded his machete at the Hanukkah party in New York that had changed.

While Thomas’s attack is a grotesque and extreme example of hate violence, it is hardly an aberration. Whites are the targets of racially motivated attacks by blacks. True, some of the attacks against whites by blacks are for their money and valuables. Others are revenge assaults by blacks for real or imagined racial insults. It is equally true that most violent crimes against whites are committed by other whites, while most violent crimes against blacks are committed by other blacks.

Yet even after discounting crimes that are hastily and erroneously tagged as racially motivated, many blacks do attack whites because they are white. Justice Department studies have shown that a measurable number of the hate crimes examined were committed against whites by black attackers. The Southern Poverty Law Center which for decades has tracked hate violence in America notes that cases of black-on-white violence has been more than an aberration in the last two decades.

More than a few ultra-conservative websites, bloggers, and the usual motley collection of white supremacists and rightist extremist groups have jumped all over this and screamed long and loud that racial hate now comes with a black face. This does several things. It puts the finger-point on blacks as America’s major hate mongers. It feeds into America’s gun mania by igniting loud calls for fearful whites to arm and protect themselves from lawless blacks. But most of all, it presents the false narrative that racially motivated hate violence is a grim product of a long bygone past, and that whatever hate violence remains is perpetuated by blacks.

This lie has worked. Who better than Trump to prove it? He took much heat in November 2015, for his false, gross factually challenged and deliberately inflammatory retweet of a favorite white nationalist talking point about black on white crime. Said Trump, whites were in grave peril from being murdered by blacks, and the stats supposedly proved that. The figures were quickly debunked. It didn’t matter. The lie was out there and countless numbers believed it.

Trump’s racist bombast could get zero media and public traction if there weren’t just enough white victims and, now as the attack on the Hanukkah party showed, Jewish victims of black hate violence to make these fallacious claims seem plausible. That’s stirred a kind of reverse prickliness on the part of many blacks. The reaction has been either disbelief that blacks can commit a hate crime. Or, there’s the complaint that when blacks do commit a hate crime and whites are the victims, the media blows it to the sky and federal hate crime charges are quickly slapped on the black offender. The charge is that there’s a double standard in how the media and public perceives and reacts to black violence against whites as opposed to white violence against blacks. Thus, there is little outcry or condemnation of it by blacks. Civil rights leaders and organizations, yes, but blacks in general, no.

Worse, some blacks quietly shrug off the violence with the bitter remark that whites have been killing blacks for years and getting away with it, and that there has been no massive explosion of white outrage at the lax treatment of white killers.

The deafening silence by blacks on this apparent racial outrage against whites will draw shouts from some that blacks are hypocrites and have a double standard when victims are whites. They’re not totally wrong. The victims of Thomas’s rampage were innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were stabbed because they were white.

Blacks must mourn these murders as passionately as they do those of black victims of white attacks and just as passionately call for the harshest punishment of the killer. The great strength of the civil rights movement was that it seized and maintained the moral high ground by never stooping to ape the violence of white racists.

The Thomas onslaught caused monumental pain and suffering to the victims’ families and friends. It again dangerously heightens racial distrust and poisons racial attitudes. There must be no hesitation, pause, or equally bad silence in condemning these attacks. 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. There’s only one message in the wake of the stabbings. A hate crime is a hate crime no matter who commits it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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