While I am well aware that, increasingly, I seem to be taking on the role of the white guy who explains to other white people why their Facebook memes—be they about “proving” the danger of the internet to their children by sending said children’s pictures around or the difference between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter—are inaccurate, prejudicial, or otherwise ill-advised, I shrug and press on.
This time out it is the text meme that follows this basic format: this white individual was the victim of a violent crime/murder (usually at the hands of a black man). Why are there no riots?
First, let’s break these down in general. You cannot claim that things are not about race (as people posting these often do) and then specifically seek out incidents of black on white crime. What that really says is, “Race isn’t a thing unless I need it to be.”
Second, riots are typically born of a group of frustrated disadvantaged people who are ignited by a specific incident that gains symbolic significance. White people as a group do not tend to fulfill those requirement, even when they are burning couches in the street to celebrate their sport teams’ championship victory.
To drill down to more specific posts, a pattern quickly emerges. For the sake of summary, I’ll note them here and then describe them in more detail below: the crimes described were committed not by police officers; the guilty party was charged or, in one example, killed at the scene; the murders described contain a number of factors that make them effective mirrors of other more well-known incidents implying that the poster should probably be incensed by, for instance, the murder of Michael Brown; or the incidents mentioned are largely unknown.
The earliest example I could find of this Facebook trend was, of course, from the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent. About a year ago, he posted a series of dates followed by descriptions of murders that did not reach national attention or cause riots and involved white victims and black perpetrators. Of course.
Of course, these were also citizen on citizen murders. Tragedies to be sure, but 50 murders are committed every day in the United States and almost none of them make the national news. White on white, man on woman, straight on gay and so on. Even including white on black crimes that do not get coverage. No, in order for a crime to reach the national stage, sadly, it needs a hook that makes it different. An officer of the law killing an unarmed person? Well, that’s hard to ignore.
(Additionally, I’d argue, it should not be ignored. We entrust a sacred duty to police officers. If they violate that trust, we as a population owe it to ourselves and to the officers who have no violated that trust to bear witness to the crime and to see that the perpetrator is removed from that position of significant power and trust.)
This is also the case with the most recent such post, one that rings its hands about the death of a delivery boy at the hands of, allegedly, two black men. To reiterate: a tragedy for certain, but the two charged men are citizens and the crime appears to be a random act. This is not a comparable incident to, say, the choking death of Eric Garner. Also, it is important to note, the two alleged criminals were charged for the crime, unlike the officers who killed Garner or Brown or [and so on].
Sometimes, though, the post will involve a police officer as in one that cited the shooting death of Kerrie Orozco, a new mother, by Marcus Wheeler. It is a horrible heart breaking story. The thing is though, Orozco is the cop, not vice versa and while we, as a society, recognize that a police officer’s death is a horrible thing, we are also trained to believe it is a constant possibility given their line of work. And, again, Wheeler—the perpetrator—was shot at the scene of the crime and later died, being, theoretically at least, brought to justice in a way the perpetrators of the events that have prompted protests and riots were not.
Then there’s the case of Gilbert Collar, a white college student shot and killed by a police officer nearly 3 years ago in the midst of acting erratically due to substance use. This one would seem to be the best “where are the riots?” argument, but even it is not a perfect comparison. For one, to be a bit cynical, it happened a few years too early for this particular moment when deaths by cops are being more focused on. For another, no one disputes he was under the influence of a substance and acting unpredictably and erratically. There is no such consensus with any of the incidents that are receiving press attentions, demonstration’s, and riots. In fact, more often, the consensus tips towards the lack of such behavior. Lastly, and this is the important one for me, if Collar’s death is wrong and senseless to you, so should be Brown’s or Garner’s or Freddie Gray’s. Should we be campaigning for justice for Collar? That does not seem insensible. But if you think that, then why are you objecting to the anger about Brown?
Another example cited by these memes is the shooting death of Robert Lawrence by officers while he was, apparently, trying to drop off a stray cat at a Humane Society like organization in Alabama. Those who are upset about this are upset, in part, because early reports linked Lawrence to vague domestic terrorist groups and highlighted details of his violent past. Not unlike, say, reports on Michael Brown stressing his criminal past and displaying pictures of someone—not him though—smoking marijuana and implying it was him. Surely if Lawrence’s shooting upsets you, you are also advocating for Brown, yes?
It also must be noted that, after a flurry of articles between late December and early January, Lawrence’s story disappears almost entirely, with the exception of a late April post. Not from mainstream sources but conservative ones as well. So if conservatives are upset Lawrence is not getting the coverage he deserves, they need look no farther than their own media of choice who have chosen to ignore the story for nearly 6 months.
All of this is a long-winded way of getting to this fundamental point. Why do some crimes elicit different reactions: because some crimes are different. None of the other crimes highlighted in the various incarnations of this meme seem to grasp the specific set of circumstances that have given rise to the current focus, the current frustrations, and the series of protests, police responses, and escalations that have marked these situations. They fail to include elements of abuses of powers, ignore how disadvantaged populations are being vividly reminded how they disadvantages can cost them everything, including their lives, and/or choose examples that reveal the hypocrisies of their arguments, not vice versa. There’s the answers. Now you don’t need the meme.