When George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, the fact that the latter was black and the former was not became an obsessive factor in the mainstream media’s relentless coverage. Yet when Australian athlete Christopher Lane was gunned down in Oklahoma by three teens — two of them black — because they were “bored,” the story barely made the media radar screen. The racial angle was played up in the Zimmerman case with a five-alarm zeal rarely displayed in cases of black-on-white homicide. In cases of interracial violence, should we presume that race was the key factor, or shouldn’t we? The answer can’t be “yes” only when the victim is nonwhite.
Letter to the Editor on this: Jeff Jacoby’s recommendation that newspapers decide that “either skin color really matters, or really doesn’t” in cases of interracial violence reflects a lack of understanding of the dynamics of race and violence. While the killing of white athlete Christopher Lane by three youths, two of whom were black, was tragic, it did not reflect historical and current systems of violence against whites.
A congressional report analyzing homicides from 2001 to 2010 found that homicides are more likely to be considered “justified” when the victim is black. It found that “On average…there were 3.7 cases of black-on-white justifiable homicides compared to 24.0 white-on-black justifiable homicide cases, a ratio of 1 to 6.” Racism still exists, and noting that it is often a motivating factor in interracial homicides with black victims is not playing up “the racial angle”; it’s being a good journalist.