Jewish Journal

Tragedy Gets Exploited

by  David A. Lehrer

March 27, 2012 | 4:53 pm

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton are just two of the civil rights all stars who are weighing in on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Each seemingly intent on outdoing the other in ratcheting up the rhetoric to make sure that America gets the message——racism is alive and well and young black men are at serious risk.

As a proviso, it seems likely that race played a role in the Martin tragedy and that the killing warrants a thorough examination at the local and, if needed, federal levels. The delay in arriving at some action regarding George Zimmerman seems inexplicable. 

But acknowledging the problematic set of facts in Sanford, Florida does not justify what we are witnessing.

Rev. Jackson went so far as to tell the Los Angeles Times that “blacks are under attack” listing home foreclosures, unemployment, student loan debt, disenfranchisement of black voters, and the black prison population as part of the assault. He also dismissed any notion that the election of Barack Obama had ameliorated the position of blacks in this country, “There was a feeling that we were kind of beyond racism…that’s not true. His victory has triggered tremendous backlash (sic).” He then made it seem like America is a dystopian nightmare for blacks; that it’s open season on African Americans because “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business.”

Jackson’s words, and those of countless other mavens on race relations, have dramatically illustrated how tragedy gets exploited and perverted by activists with their own, self-serving agendas and how complicit the media is in amplifying divisive and sensational messages. While this phenomenon is nothing new (we opined about this issue when certain Jewish leaders crassly exploited the 2009 shooting at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in the Times)—-it seems to have reached a new height and depth in recent weeks, and is pervasive.

First, let’s look at something that Rev. Jackson chooses to ignore; data.

Other than relying on anecdotal incidents of horror that are, mercifully few and far between, it’s not clear what metrics exist to support the notion that hate against blacks is on the rise. The FBI’s Annual Hate Crime Report documents hate “incidents and offenses” (over 80% of the acts directed at “persons” were either intimidation or simple assault) based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability gathered from across the country since 1990. It is the yardstick for measuring acts of violence directed at minorities. In terms of hate in which African Americans are the victims, the number of incidents and offenses has

declined from 8,143 in 1996 (the oldest year that the data is available on-line) to 4,801 in 2010—-a reduction of 41%


Admittedly, hate crime data is fraught with numerous methodological problems (under-reporting, categorization, law enforcement agencies that don’t report, etc.) but the trend is indisputable and moving in the right direction. Presumably, if there were a “tremendous backlash” against blacks where “killing us is a big business” the FBI and its bosses at the US Department of Justice (headed by an African American) would have seen the data and alerted the nation.

Locally, the LA County Relations Commission’s Hate Crime Report is no different in the movement of the trend line. In 1999 the Commission reported 232 hate crimes directed at African Americans in LA County. By 2010 (the last reported year for which data is available),

the number of hate crimes against blacks had dropped to 123 (in a county with nearly 10 million residents), a decline of 46%

. Apparently, the “backlash” and “open season” against African Americans hasn’t reached LA County with a population of some 850,000 potential targets.

The studies that evidence increased tolerance and recognition by Americans of the changed environment are plentiful. That the attitudes of 95 million Millennials reveal more racial tolerance than “any generation” is indisputable (93% approve of inter-racial dating). A 2010 Pew Center survey, “Blacks Upbeat about Black Progress, Prospects” found that “a majority of blacks believe that life for blacks in the future will be better than now, that most blacks (as do whites) believe that blacks and whites have grown more alike in their standard of living and core values, that 54% of blacks believe that President Obama’s election has improved race relations and that 32% of blacks (in late 2009, well into the Great Recession) rate their personal finances as ‘excellent or good’.”

The hyperbole surrounding the tragedy of Trayvon Martin is understandable and all too predictable. The exaggeration around race relations will, undoubtedly, only increase locally in the weeks ahead as numerous talking heads will analyze where we have come in the twenty years since the 1992 riots.

There is a special toxic brew that results when kvetching by spokesmen for civil rights/human relations organizations (most of whom have a vested interest in portraying a bigoted America that continues to need their help and guidance) combines with a tragedy that has a racial, ethnic, or religious overlay and that blend is put before the media. These spokespersons are treated as if they were academics neutrally analyzing data and the world around them rather than folks with an agenda that presupposes and thrives on the perception of continued inter-group tension (lest they be superfluous). The media loves the hyperbole—-it’s a great lead-in to the 11:00 news and fuels the 24/7 news cycle—the spokespeople love the exposure and seeming relevance—and the viewers and readers are the poorer for it. A portrait of America gets painted and absorbed that does not comport with reality.

Reverends Jackson and Sharpton would do us a favor by cooling it for a bit and adapting their agendas and their rhetoric to the changed world around them.

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