The racially motivated shooting in a Buffalo supermarket was a heinous crime that has been condemned by Americans of every color, faith, and political stripe. The shooter, Payton Gendron, drove over three hours to launch his attack on a neighborhood that has the highest percentage of black residents in upstate New York. He surrendered to police and has pled “not guilty” to charges of first-degree murder.
As is often the case, the Buffalo massacre quickly ceased being about the innocent victims or the pain and grief their families are enduring. The main story morphed into the shooter’s political motivations and the degree to which he was influenced by political rhetoric around the “replacement theory” associated with conservative politicians and media personalities, including Tucker Carlson.
Gendron’s 180-page manifesto, which has been taken off the internet, reads like a tangled web of political positions on everything from gun control laws to “green nationalism.” He certainly does describe himself as a white supremacist. The problem is that our conversations around race have become so poisoned that “white supremacy” is also evidenced by the fact that black NBA players were cheered on by white fans one day after the shootings, according to Deadspin. The author of that column didn’t seem to question whether the 21 people shot in three incidents in downtown Milwaukee Friday night also weighed on the minds of Milwaukee Bucks players during Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics.
If we can ask questions about the shooter’s motivations for his crime, we should also ask about our motives for highlighting certain types of senseless violence and ignoring others.
Doing so would reveal an ugly and uncomfortable truth: Our political culture is infected with “outrage inequity” when it comes to race, crime, and violence. The main symptom of this condition is the selective application of moral indignation and condemnation based on specific victim-perpetrator color combinations.
The left’s view of equity holds that social outcomes should roughly match population percentages. For example, if an urban school system is 25% black, white, Asian, and Hispanic, equity advocates would expect the students in gifted programs and specialized schools – two of a district’s most important resources – to have a similar mix of students.
A school system that was 90% black and Hispanic but produced gifted programs and specialized schools that were 90% white and only five percent black would have some serious explaining to do. Leaders of that school district would have to contend with accusations that they are only concerned about education when it involves white students.
One unfortunate reality the Buffalo shooting made clear is that similar inequities exist when it comes to the types of crimes that receive national attention. Certain politicians, pundits, entertainers, journalists, and corporations are only interested in crime stories that involve white perpetrators and black victims. They chant “black lives matter” with their lips, but their actions and selective outrage reveal a worldview more accurately described as “white suspects matter.”
There is an ugly history of lynchings, cross-burnings, firebombings, and targeted shootings that have been carried out to terrorize black communities and create a sense of fear among black citizens. Violence motivated by white supremacy should be swiftly condemned, and thankfully it is in today’s society.
The reason these crimes are evil isn’t because the perpetrators are white and the victims are black. They are evil because every human being is created in the image of God and murder is an affront against our Creator. This principle holds regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of everyone involved or the motivations of the killers.
We’ve lost the ability to say that, because we live in a country where even self-professed Christians subscribe to outrage inequity driven by ethnic partiality. Christians who believe all humans are guilty of sin – and in need of the same savior – should be the first ones to acknowledge that neither vice nor virtue is inherent to any one group. Too often, however, they engage in the same types of vague claims about support for white supremacy as their secular counterparts, who now accuse black conservatives of being closeted Klansmen.
Like Deadspin, they dilute the potency and power of “white supremacy” by applying it haphazardly to trivial matters. Their use of terms like “whiteness” as a catchall that encompasses everything from the nuclear family to self-reliance also makes hopes of productive racial dialogue and “racial reconciliation” impossible.
It also makes understanding any other type of hate crime extremely difficult. The provincial thinking of America’s leading race scribes can’t even compute a shooting in a Laguna Woods church carried out by a Chinese immigrant motivated by hatred toward Taiwan.
Outrage inequity isn’t just about murder. It is also what made a verbal dispute in New York involving a white woman and black birdwatcher into a national story drawing comparisons to Emmett Till. It also explains why Jussie Smollett’s hate hoax consumed so much media coverage, while the dozens of schoolchildren who are shot in Chicago each year receive none.
We cannot continue on this path.
We will never reach a state of outrage equity until we allow sympathy to flow to victims of violent crimes without regard for their ethnic identity. It is natural and humane to mourn when you hear about a person being cut down by gunfire while going about their daily life. That should be the case no matter what the victims look like.
Moving to a place of outrage equity will require the consistent application of ethical, moral, and legal standards to the analysis of violent crimes.
It is hard to take racial justice advocates seriously when their response to thousands of black victims of street crime each year is “defund the police,” while the response to the atrocious – but comparatively rare – incidents of racial violence is a call for anti-black hate crime legislation and new executive orders.
Outrage equity also means assessments of the role political rhetoric plays in a heinous crime should apply the same standard, whether the suspect parrots talking points about white genocide from David Duke or black genocide from Benjamin Crump.
Analyzing the motivations and root causes of violent criminals should also be done without regard to ethnicity or socioeconomic status. No longer can some perpetrators be cast as blameless victims of structural forces and historic oppression and others as moral agents driven by ethnic rage and privilege.
People notice that the same outlets that blame Republicans for Payton Gendron’s actions blamed Darrell Brooks’ SUV for killing six people and injuring 60 during a Christmas parade in Waukesha. Achieving outrage equity will require a single standard when attributing blame to inanimate objects involved in crimes.
Contrary to popular belief, the reason I bring so much attention to street crimes in our biggest cities has nothing to do with playing to a specific audience. I do it because homicide is the leading cause of death of young black men, and I don’t want another generation of black boys thinking that living past 25 is a major life accomplishment.
I’m also tired of the people who use legitimate tragedies involving innocent black victims to highlight white perpetrators, not tell the truth about protecting black lives. These individuals practice a pernicious form of ethnic partiality that disqualifies them from being the arbiters of moral authority they presume themselves to be.
I would say the same thing if a white conservative site only ran stories about child sex crimes involving black suspects, even though more than 85% of people charged for possessing child pornography are white. Questions about motive would be completely appropriate if the 3% of black child pornography suspects were also the focus of 95% of the larger conservative commentary in this area.
I wish both liberals and conservatives alike would focus on the victims of crime and their families. This is a much more humane, compassionate way to address these issues. Seeing victims of crime as pieces to be moved around a cultural chess board is a sign of a sick culture that places a higher value on political power than preserving life. This applies equally to the left and right.
Transformed hearts are what we need in this country today, not more entrenched tribal conflict. The cross of Christ gives us the perfect path. It is there that we see both the universal nature of sin and the only source of true reconciliation between God and man. I pray we find our way soon.