In the parallel universe of race and class inhabited by Cincinnatians and Americans in general, black-on-black and white-on-white crime are identical yet somehow simultaneously different (she said with mock surprise).
Poor blacks kill one another, and we're pathological, crime-addled cannibals who deserve the sham that the "just us" system has in store. We're statistics, counted on to prove social theses about the relationship among crime, poverty and race. And our overworked and disinterested public defenders whisper: Take the deal.
Middle-class whites kill one another, and network news magazines spend hours analyzing the killer's brilliant criminal mind. They're unlikely suspects, discounted and therefore serially overlooked in the equation of crime, class and race. And their attorneys, purchased with the blood of second or third mortgages, exhaust appeals to further clog the legal system with entitlement.
Run this recurring scenario through your sociological computer on the street where you live: A poor black teen-aged boy makes a series of stupid mistakes costing his life or his liberty. Invariably, his single and beleaguered mother is charged and convicted in the court of public opinion as unfit, unable, half-assed, half-baked, stupid, poor, inattentive and an assumed addict (probably crack). On the evening news, she crumbles into the by-now-stereotypical posture of the heaving, tired black Madonna who wants the world to remember her boy — whether killer or victim — as the angel she knew.
Same shit. Different way.
A middle-class white teen-aged boy flies off the joystick in a Play Station rage and decimates all or some part of his family. Invariably, his parents are held aloft as unsuspecting, tireless, educated, attentive, dedicated, God-fearing, shocked and assumed blameless in a W. kind of way. If a single mother is raising the boy, she's martyred by evening news reporters anxious to make hospital corners of the busted bubble.
In the aftermath of the trial of David Harris, the 14-year-old charged with shooting to death three people in Over-the-Rhine, The Enquirer ran a story with an unsubstantiated and tangential claim that the black suspect had a $500-a-week marijuana habit — as though the munchies, extreme cottonmouth, lethargy and heavy lids made him do it.
It was merely an additive to seal the reader's hatred for Harris. It's what they salaciously say.
Against the backdrop of the setting summer sun, every first-day story of 16-year-old Andrew Warrington's alleged baseball bat murder of his brother John reported ominously that Andrew had been "in and out of" several schools and that he wasn't currently a student at Summit Country Day with John and their 14-year-old brother. They downplayed his "confession" to a pedestrian that someone had "got beaten to death by a baseball bat" in a nearby house and missed the Greek tragedy in Andrew washing off his blood brother in the Hyde Park Square fountain.
There were no unsubstantiated claims to or connections between Andrew's school switching and behavioral or anger management problems. And no reporter blithely dropped unattributed claims, as with Harris, that Andrew had some costly drug habit.
It's what they protectively don't say.
The media, however, have blurted class-encrusted gems straight from the shock-and-awe file such as, "In this normally quiet neighborhood..." and, my personal favorite, "The fountain is back open. Back to you, Kit and Rob."
The mainstream media are Hyde Park's and America's second shooter on the grassy knoll, the culprit perpetuating our faux status quo comforts right back on to us. With each murder and flash of violence in Hyde Park — the woman jogging alone, the woman attacked at her door at Christmas — some reporter will open or close with an editorialized expression of disbelief.
The way wealthy whites turn their sun-burned backs on the violence among themselves and the way mainstream media refuse to tag this violence as pathological like they do in poor neighborhoods of color socialize all of us into criminalizing The Other, whomever that happens to be on your block.
Where I live, it's the troubled white teen-aged boys who take out the secret rage of their angst on one of their own and then try washing it off in a public fountain on a beautiful summer afternoon.
As you were.
Kathy y. wilson: Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.