Opinion- See Each Other as Individuals, To Be Weighed on Our Own Merits or Failings

June 21, 2020

TAMPA – Guest Op-Ed By: Hayden Ervin

Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. 

By now, even the most casual news consumer likely knows these names, as the national media has saturated the airwaves and internet with both.

But in case you’ve tuned out, a short explanation. 

Arbery was a young black man in Brunswick, Georgia, shot to death by two white yahoos who confronted him to “question” him about a burglary in their neighborhood. The shooting happened in February, but became known nationally in early May only after a video of the shooting was released.

Floyd, also black, from Minneapolis, died in police custody in late May. One officer, who was white, was videoed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, ignoring frequent pleas from Floyd and bystanders to relieve his struggling breathing.

Certainly no one can dispute — or should dispute — what happened to these men in the overarching sense: Their lives were snuffed out too soon, tragically, senselessly and avoidably.

But just glancing at the commonalities — two black men dead, white men at fault (if not declared so yet by the legal system), with videos of their final moments — our intrepid media see obvious racism. 

And it’s not just the alleged racism of the assailants. It’s also the racism of “the system” — the legal system, surely, but also the system wherein mostly whites man the levers of government, politics, business, culture. 

To some the violence we now see is the only response to such unmitigated tragedies. As the rapper and actor Ice Cube posted after Floyd’s death, “How long will we go for Blue on Black crime until we strike back?”

In that context progress by black Americans toward more equal footing, or conversely concessions made by white America to acknowledge clear historical wrongs and attempt to atone by establishing a more just, equitable society, do not matter.

What matters is the tape.

Our mainstream media are playing a divisive, dangerous game. It must stop. If not, we will no longer see each other as fellow Americans, imperfect and flawed, but still striving for “liberty and justice for all.”

Rather we’ll become members of tribes — and perhaps warring tribes, if the mainstream media fan the flames of hatred hard enough, fast enough, often enough, long enough.

As noted, the deaths of Arbery and Floyd are troubling. And while their killers are obligated to a day in court, the prima facie evidence now suggests they should be convicted and imprisoned for a long time..

But think about other names we don’t know.

For instance, have you heard of George Weed? Probably not. 

Sounds like a character from a Jimmy Buffett song or a Carl Hiaasen novel. But Weed was a middle-aged, living, breathing person until one day at a county fair in Maryland last fall.

Weed was approached by two teenaged brothers. They reportedly asked him for a dollar. He declined. One of them then sucker-punched him. Weed fell, incapcitated. The local sheriff said the teens then taunted and spit on him as he lay on the ground. He later died at a hospital.

Oh, and there was a video of the fatal punch.

So we have an attack, a murder, a video. But no one outside of Weed’s hometown has ever heard of Weed. What’s different?

Weed was white, his attackers were black.

When the Arbery shooting video surfaced, NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted, “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes!” After Floyd’s death, CBS News personality Gayle King opined that it was “open season” on black men. 

Such inflammatory rhetoric sets the narrative. White men “hunting” black men because it’s always “open season.” 

According to the FBI, for the decade between 2009 to 2018, the most recent year data are available, white suspects killed 218 blacks a year on average. Not quite “EVERYDAY,” but still about four killings per week. 

On the other hand, here’s what LeBron, Ice Cube, Gayle King and those who agree with them will never acknowledge, admit, or address.

According to that FBI data, blacks murdered an average of 482 white people a year over that decade. Or about nine whites per week — more than twice the vice versa.

Arbery’s killing occurred in February, and the tape emerged on May 5.   

Three days later Paul and Lidia Marino, a Maryland couple who were 86 and 85, respectively, were visiting their son’s grave at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Shortly after 10 a.m., a gunman, Sheldon Francis, shot them to death. He later died in a shootout with the cops. It’s unclear if he killed himself or the police got him. Either way, authorities have not uncovered a motive.

It was an outrageous crime against two innocent elderly people. But the Marinos were white, Francis was black. 

Why do we not know their names?

Three days after the Marinos were murdered, Roman Kichigin, a 15-year-old shadetree BMW mechanic in Charlotte, was shot to death. Police arrested Clifton Stanfill for the homicide, which cops believe resulted from an attempted robbery.

Roman was white, Stanfill was black. 

Why do we not know his name?

As riots broke out in many parts of the country after protests of Floyd’s death got out of hand, Orlando police fished Deana Lynn Polanco out of a lake. They also soon arrested Octavious Jefferson for first-degree murder in her death.

Polanco was white, Jefferson black. 

Why do we not know her name? 

Conversely, from the killer’s side, why do we know the name of Dylann Roof, the white nationalist who killed nine worshippers at a black church in South Carolina in 2015, but not that of Micah Johnson, the black Army veteran who 13 months later killed four white cops and one Hispanic one in Dallas after writing explicitly that he wanted to kill white people, especially police? 

Wall Street Journal columnist Gerard Baker explains.

In comparing the “unremarked” murders of Paul and Lidia Marino to the “millions of words” spilled about Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, Baker noted that our nation faces “a continuous, ubiquitous lecture series on the unalterably racist nature of America” from those who “control our public discourse.”

In other words, we know about Arbery, Floyd and Roof because our national media gatekeepers have determined that America is an ugly, racist place and will elevate stories that reinforce that point — but then ignore every instance when interracial murder doesn’t fit their narrative.

Wrote Baker, “No fair person disputes the proposition that racism remains a continuing reality and blight on American life. But the systematic misrepresentation of the facts, the highly selective choice of stories, the one-sided nature of the reporting and the routine exclusion of countervailing evidence only risk making it worse.”

That nails it.

In 1964 the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan opined that “all media exists to invest our lives with artificial perception and arbitrary values.” 

His point was to argue that other media, such as newspapers, spread this facile reality as easily as TV. But his words also describe the practices of the national media writ large: to pound into us the artificial perception that America as a whole remains irredeemably racist and the arbitrary value that such racism cuts only one way.

This situation is exacerbated by recent coverage of the “protests” of Floyd’s death. 

Our journalistic betters are legitimizing looting, pillaging and near murderous beatdowns in the streets as expressions of righteous “anger,” and not as the common thuggery that they are, because the victims are primarily white. 

We must find a way to reject the view of our nation that the mainstream media want to impose, and work — yes, it can be work — to see each other as individuals, to be weighed on our own merits or failings. If we don’t, we won’t like how this ends.

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