Saturday, June 09, 2007
From The Chicago Tribune…
What is a hate crime?
Some are asking why no media outcry over murders in which victims were white and suspects are black
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- What happened to Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a young Knoxville couple out on an ordinary Saturday night date, was undeniably brutal. The two were carjacked, kidnapped, raped and finally murdered during an ordeal of unimaginable terror in January.
But whether the attack was a racial hate crime worthy of national media attention is another question, one that has now ignited a fierce dispute over the definition of hate crimes and how the mainstream media choose to cover America’s most discomfiting interracial attacks.
That’s because the murders of Christian and Newsom didn’t fit the familiar contours of a traditional Old South attack, in which whites target blacks and reporters quickly assume the motivation must have been racial.
Instead, the races were reversed: Christian and Newsom were white; the three men and one woman charged with their murders are black. And the failure of the story to gain much media attention outside of the Knoxville area has galvanized conservative commentators across the country who insist the case offers clear evidence of liberal bias in the major media.
They have launched a broad Internet campaign, waged via blogs, e-mails and YouTube videos, to counter what they regard as suppression of a story about an anti-white hate crime.
“There is a discomfort level [in the national media] with stories that have black assailants and white victims,” said Michelle Malkin, a prominent conservative newspaper columnist and TV commentator who has featured the Knoxville case on her Web site. “If it doesn’t fit some sort of predetermined narrative of how we view taboo subjects like race and crime, there’s a disinclination to cover it.”
Country music star Charlie Daniels, who lives 150 miles from Knoxville, contrasted scant coverage of the Christian-Newsom murders with the national media frenzy that erupted last year when a black woman accused three white members of the Duke University lacrosse team of raping her at a party. The white players were cleared in April after the accuser proved unreliable and no evidence corroborated a crime.
“If this [Knoxville case] had been white on black crime, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and their ilk would have descended on Knoxville like a swarm of angry bees,” Daniels wrote on his Web site. “I guess the lack of TV cameras discouraged them.”
Cause celebre for extremists
Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists have jumped on the case as well, drawn to the state where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865. Hate groups have organized rallies in Knoxville and set up Web sites under the victims’ names to spew racial invective.
But it’s not just conservative whites and extremists who have criticized the national silence over the Knoxville case.
“Black leaders are not eager to take this on because it’s one more thing that would cast a negative light on African-Americans,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an author and nationally syndicated black columnist who has written frequently about the reluctance of black leaders to denounce crimes committed by blacks against whites. “There’s already an ancient stereotype that blacks are more violent and crime-prone, anyway.”
Rev. Ezra Maize, the president of the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP, has been one of the few black leaders to address the case.
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable speaking out against this crime because it was African-Americans [allegedly] committing a crime against Caucasians,” Maize said. “It’s not a black-and-white issue. It’s a right-and-wrong issue. Those who committed this crime were unjust in doing so and they should pay the penalty.”
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