Chris Lane murder: Is a racist dimension of the crime being discounted?
The shooting of college student Chris Lane in Oklahoma is stirring a debate over what constitutes a hate crime. Racist tweets, allegedly from social media accounts of a black suspect, prompt some to ask if race was a motive in the murder.
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In 2011, the most recent year for which the FBI reported data, anti-white bias accounted for 17.3 percent of reported cases, compared with 71.2 percent for anti-black bias, according to FBI hate crime statistics.Skip to next paragraph
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But for some white Americans, such statistics merely raise questions as to whether law enforcement officials are accurately accounting for racially motivated crime.
“The racial double standard about who gets charged with a hate crime has been noticed by white people, and is not something that is going to advance race relations in America,” says Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University law professor and author of “The New White Nationalism in America.”
The reality, she says, is that “governments continue to treat black-on-white crimes as plain old crimes, and whenever there’s the reverse order, white-on-minority, there’s a great effort to find the racial motivation.”
The trial of Mr. Zimmerman came to represent America’s fractured reckoning with race and racism, as the country divided neatly between those who believed that Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, was railroaded by a race-baiting political cabal and those who saw his not-guilty verdict in July as more proof that black victims still struggle for justice in America.
President Obama weighed in twice, once saying that Trayvon could have been his son, and then, in long off-the-cuff remarks after the verdict, how Trayvon could have been him 35 years ago. He also noted at that time that black history provides black Americans with a specific and painful lens through which to view the world.
Critics want the president to speak up to condemn racism aimed at whites, as well – and they see in the Lane case an opportunity to do so, given the racist sentiments allegedly espoused by a black suspect. “Who will POTUS identify w/ this time,” tweeted former US Rep. Allen West, a black conservative.
Some critics, including Ms. Swain at Vanderbilt, fault black civil rights leaders for goading emotions around race when it fits their political agenda, while ignoring or playing down racially motivated crimes by blacks against whites.
“There’s this false assumption that black people can’t be racist, that you have to have power to be racist,” says Swain. “But when you have a gun or you have them outnumbered, you have power.”
She adds: “I think that we do have to change the conversation in America about race, and one of things we have to focus on is bad behavior in the black community, behavior that’s unacceptable and the silence that surrounds it.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a confidante of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote in a tweet Wednesday that he is "praying for the family of Chris Lane. This senseless violence is frowned upon and the justice system must prevail."
A Melbourne native, Lane was a student at East Central University in Ada, Okla., where he attended on a baseball scholarship. He was visiting his girlfriend in Duncan when he was shot in the back.
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