The price of black silence on certain hate crimes

In the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg March 1, a gunman shot down five men - killing three and injuring two - in an apparent racially motivated rampage from his apartment building to a Burger King and a McDonalds.

But this time, there were two distinct twists in the racial attacks:

*The suspect - charged with the murders and "ethnic intimidation" (Pennsylvania's term for "hate crime") - is black.

*No black leader or organization immediately rushed forth to vigorously denounce the shootings. There was no prominent expression of outrage from the black communities. And there was no demand that the alleged shooter, Ronald Taylor, be harshly prosecuted under the federal civil rights hate crimes act if he shot the men because they were white.

Some blacks I know privately shrug off the killings with the bitter remark that whites have been killing blacks for years and getting away with it, and there has been no massive explosion of white outrage at the lax treatment of white killers.

And the deafening silence of blacks has drawn criticism on talk radio from some whites who say blacks have a double standard when victims of hate crime are whites.

They're not totally wrong.

Black leaders and organizations should have quickly condemned the shootings.

The victims of Taylor's rampage were innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - apparently shot because they were white.

Blacks must denounce the murders of whites attacked by blacks as passionately as they do those of black victims of white attacks.

They must just as passionately call for the harshest punishment of all involved in hate crimes.

The great strength of the civil rights movement was that it seized and maintained the moral high ground by never stooping to the violence of white racists.

But the Taylor shooting spree is also troubling for another reason. While it appears to be an extreme example of racial violence, it is hardly unusual. More whites than ever are the targets of attacks by blacks.

True, some of the attacks against whites by blacks are for money and valuables. But, others are revenge assaults by blacks for a real or imagined racial insult.

It is equally true that the vast majority of violent crimes against whites are committed by whites, while the vast majority of 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.

A 1998 Justice Department study confirmed that nearly 20 percent of the more than 4,000 hate crimes were committed against whites, and their attackers were blacks.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also notes that that is a huge escalation in black-on-white violence from nearly none at the beginning of the 1990s.

A motley collection of white supremacists and rightist extremist groups have eagerly made black-on-white violence a wedge issue in their crusade to paint blacks as the prime racial hate mongers in America.

Avowed white supremacist David Duke instantly screamed that Taylor's carnage proves that whites are under assault from lawless blacks and the federal government won't protect them.

The New Century Foundation, an ultra-conservative think tank, has launched a full-blown national campaign to alert whites to the danger of black hate crimes.

These groups and individuals magnify hate crimes by blacks in order to back their social agenda.

They oppose affirmative action programs and stronger hate crime laws. They downplay, or justify, the proliferation of white supremacist-tinged paramilitary groups, police violence, and racial profiling. And they lobby hard for more prisons, police, and tougher laws.

Black-on-white violence also reinforces white fears of blacks as the ultimate menace to society.

The Taylor shooting claimed innocent lives and caused monumental suffering to the victims' families and friends. It dangerously heightens racial distrust and poisons racial attitudes.

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 black lives.

This is a terrible price for black silence on hate crimes committed by blacks.

*Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes frequently on racial issues for African-American newspapers. He is the author of the forthcoming 'The Disappearance of Black Leadership' (Middle Passage Press).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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