A magnet for racists
Timothy Egan of The New York Times LAMENTS the ugly outpouring of racial hatred in the wake of the beating death last week of 88-year-old World War II veteran Delbert “Shorty” Belton in a Spokane, Wash., parking lot:
Shorty Belton was white. The two teenagers arrested in his murder are black. When the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News — the troglodyte trio — saw this story, it went from an all-too-common tale of urban violence to a politicized narrative and magnet for racists.
The Spokane newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, had to shut down the comments section on its Web site because the stream was so thick with anti-black and anti-Obama sewage. A columnist for the paper, Shawn Vestal, was stunned to see his town become a casualty in the race version of the culture wars.
“What happened to Belton was horrible,” Vestal wrote. “And what happened to him in death — as his name was taken up cynically for political fodder in the world of bloviation and dog-whistle racism — was horrible in a different way.”
But don’t take the word of a newspaper columnist. The Spokane police chief, Frank Straub, said, “There is no indication that there is any racial motivation whatsoever” in the crime. More significant, he said, is that two young people thought it was O.K. to beat an old man to death.
Limbaugh went after Obama for refusing to draw attention to a crime committed by “thug-wannabe African-Americans.” Fox News tried desperately to make the killing a racial incident, even when a family member of the victim pushed back against a series of suggestive questions. “If I could say this to everybody: stop making this about race,” said Allen Hills, a great-nephew of Shorty, during an interview on “Fox and Friends.” “This isn’t about race. It’s about two punk kids.”
Spokane is one of the whitest cities in America; just over 2 percent of its 209,000 residents are black. But the town elected a black mayor in the past and has a long tradition of resistance to the pockets of hard-core racists in its midst. Most of the hatred, judging by the thousands of Web comments, came from outside the city, driven by the aforementioned media ringleaders.
The same thing happened in Oklahoma after a white, Australian baseball player, 22-year-old Christopher Lane, was shot in the back while jogging. Three teens were arrested for the murder, two of them black. Lane was killed, in the narrative stoked by conservative media, because he was white — and thousands of Web commenters picked up the thread. Does it matter that the lead prosecutor in the case said race was not a factor?
It is much easier to incite racial fear than to try to examine the mechanics of evil. Yes, blacks commit a disproportionate amount of the homicides in this country, and are disproportionate among the victims. Is that because of their race? Enough people believe so, and will use any crime with a white victim and a black assailant to press their point.
From the beginning of Obama’s time in office, when Glenn Beck said the president “has a deep-seated hatred for white people,” to the present-day, right-wing media figures have played their own kind of race card. Just last month, Limbaugh accused Obama of promoting “racial strife” for daring to talk about how blacks view the Trayvon Martin case through a different lens than whites. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder about it,” said Limbaugh on the president and race, “and he’s here to square the deal.”
The Web is the other big factor. The digital village square, in free-speech theory, is the marketplace of ideas. But what if the marketplace looks like the “Star Wars” bar — or worse? After reading the comments on another racially charged story in Colorado a few weeks ago, someone wrote on the Fox 31-Denver Web site that it was like being a fly on the wall at “an Alabama Klan rally.”
The only way to kill those rallies, it appears, is to kill or modify the forum, as The Huffington Post will soon be doing. “Trolls are just getting more and more aggressive and uglier,” said Arianna Huffington, in explaining a plan to get rid of anonymous comments and try to encourage “the grown-up Internet.”