The Lane killing: A white Trayvon Martin?

The death of Christopher Lane is as troubling as that of Trayvon Martin, but it has not sparked a national uproar.

Three teenagers were charged last week in the killing of a white college student in Duncan, Okla., and “part of the story is what didn’t happen,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “There was no saturation cable TV coverage, no press conference featuring Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, and no statement from the Oval Office.” The death of Christopher Lane is as troubling as that of black teen Trayvon Martin, but will not become a touchstone of racial and cultural debate. “But maybe it should.” A 22-year-old Australian, Lane was in the U.S. to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. Two black teens spotted him out jogging, trailed him in a car, and allegedly shot him in the back “for the fun of it.” Police said a third teen, who was white, served as the getaway driver. Racial animus was very clearly a factor, said John Lott Jr. in Shortly before the attack on Lane, one of his killers tweeted, “90 percent of white people are nasty. #HATE THEM.” So where’s the outrage? Does racism only count when it’s white-on-black?

Christopher Lane is not the white Trayvon Martin, said Alex Seitz-Wald in The Martin case sparked a national uproar not simply because the light-skinned George Zimmerman stalked and killed an unarmed black teenager who was minding his own business—but because police let him get away with it. “It smacked of institutional, state-sponsored racial favoritism of the worst kind.” It took six weeks of public outrage before state prosecutors took over the case and pressed charges. Lane’s murder, while equally tragic, was an entirely different matter. Police arrested the suspects within 24 hours, charged them as adults, and “vowed to throw the book at them.” The Right, though, jumped on the Lane case because it plays to their “narrative of white victimization,” said Jamelle Bouie in To Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk, the killing was more proof that white people have become an oppressed minority in Obama’s America. But while Lane’s death was just as tragic as Trayvon Martin’s, there was no miscarriage of justice here—no police indifference to a dead teen, no killer walking away scot-free. “The system worked.”

Black America does, however, have a double standard about violence, said John McWhorter in Young black men commit about 50 percent of the murders in the U.S. Yet African-Americans aren’t nearly as indignant about black teens killing one another or whites as about the occasional white shooting of a black teen, “even though the former wreaks much more havoc in black communities.” There’s no anti-violence movement equivalent to the one Martin’s shooting produced. But who knows what we’d achieve if “black America exerted even half of the emotional fervor and brainpower it does over cases like Martin’s to thinking about how to keep black boys from going wrong?”

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Unfortunately, the race peddlers would rather focus on white injustice, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Even President Obama got into this polarizing game when he unwisely injected himself into the Martin case, declaring that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.” With that single statement he “essentially gave permission for all to identify themselves by race with the victim or the accused.” I could just as easily say, “If I had a son, he would look like Christopher Lane” or “If I had a father, he’d look like Delbert Belton,” an 88-year-old, white, World War II veteran beaten to death last week by two black teens in Spokane. That’s the kind of narrow-minded thinking we’ll get if “we identify ourselves and each other only by the color of our skin.”

The color of the victim should be beside the point, said Jonathan Hicks in Lane’s death is a grim reminder that in America “anyone with determination—including teenagers—can get hold of a semi-automatic firearm as easily as buying hand sanitizer in a drugstore.” When those guns fall into the hands of bored, disturbed kids who lack role models and strong families, the end result is utterly predictable. Maybe, instead of bickering over whether black-on-white or white-on-black violence is worse, we should take a good hard look at why our society is so riddled with guns and violence, and so lacking in “basic human decency.” For that, Americans have no one to blame but ourselves.

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