We’ve seen it so often that it has become laughable, pitiable and disgraceful. But more than anything, it strikes to the heart of a grotesque truth about American hypocrisy. The “it” this time is the almost matter of fact, infuriating double standard by law enforcement, the press and public officials when it comes to young black males committing mayhem versus young or not-so-young white males committing mayhem.
It reared its ugly head again in the way that law enforcement handled and much of the media reported on the recent deadly shootout between rival Texas biker gangs. The carnage in Waco left nine dead, scores wounded and nearly 200 arrested, most of them white bikers. It was labeled a “feud,” a “melee,” “a turf battle,” accompanied by a deluge of media interviews from self-identified biker gang members painting themselves as belonging to a harmless social club.
Then we saw the now-infamous scene of scores of detained bikers allegedly connected with the mayhem leisurely corralled near the murder scene on their cellphones and yukking it up with each other. And who did we see overseeing them? We saw police officers seemingly just as casual; nonchalant as if it was just another day at the office. Or, as if they had just detained these bikers for nothing more than a speeding violation.
Suffice it to say, there have been few hysterical screeches branding them as thugs, gangsters, animals and vermin. There have been few indignant calls by the press, citizenry and elected officials for a swift, harsh, toss-the-book-at-them resolution — the kind of demands we hear when it’s young black males on the hot seat.
Young whites tear up streets, overturn cars and battle police after a championship hockey or basketball victory or loss and it’s simply tagged as boys will be boys. Or, when a young white male shoots up a school or theater there are pronouncements about his troubled childhood, drug addiction or psychological traumas. Or, how about, when young whites are popped for drug use? The pipeline for them is not to courts and jails, but to counseling and treatment and therapy.
This dual racial standard rests squarely on the pantheon of stereotypes and negative typecasting of young black males, which too often has deadly consequences.
The hope was that Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the White House would bury once and for all negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat it poses to the safety and well-being of black males. It did no such thing. Immediately after his election, teams of researchers from several major universities found that many of the old stereotypes about poverty and crime and blacks remained frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceived those most likely to commit crimes as poor, jobless and black. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime were firmly rammed together in the public mind. It showed that once the stereotype is planted, it’s virtually impossible to root it out. That’s hardly new.
In 2003, Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit a crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crimes. This was no surprise given the relentless media depictions of young black males as dysfunctional, dope-peddling, gang bangers and drive-by shooters. The study found that even when blacks didn’t commit a specific crime, whites still identified the perpetrator as African-American.
Five years later, university researchers wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway. Researchers found that the attitudes on crime and race remained unchanged.
The bulging numbers of blacks in America’s jails and prisons seem to reinforce the wrong-headed perception that crime and violence invariably comes with a young, black, male face. The brutal reality is that Waco won’t change that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the “Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network and author of “How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge.” He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.
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