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Jewish World ReviewMarch 2, 1999 /14 Adar, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Tuning our racial sensitivities

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THE JURY IN JASPER, TEXAS, spoke volumes with a simple gesture. The 12-person group selected its only black member as foreman and left to him the job of announcing that John William King was guilty of murder in the first degree.

For those who believe that nothing has changed since the days of Jim Crow racism, the response of Jasper and the rest of America to this most atrocious crime should serve as a reminder that a very great deal has changed. Forty or 50 years ago, similar crimes against black people brought forth not agony and grief from the white community but smirky indifference.

Convicted Jasper murderer
Today, there is unanimity that such a crime -- dragging a man to his death behind a truck, a murder aggravated by torture -- is about the worst thing we can imagine and richly merits the death penalty.

But then there are the Doug Tracht of this world. In a statement that defies belief, this disc jockey on a Washington, D.C., radio station played a portion of Lauryn Hill's music and then said, "No wonder people drag them behind trucks."

Tracht is known as a "shock jock," which is to say, his popularity is based on tasteless, gross and repellent language and "humor." The station, WARW, has not yet decided whether to fire him for the truck comment -- he has been merely suspended. That they didn't dismiss him on the spot is consistent with airing "shock jocks" in the first place. Those who think that tastelessness is good business are not likely to recognize what is beyond tasteless when they hear it.

Our collective race sensitivities are quite a hash. On the one hand, we cannot seem to completely eliminate malignant tumors like John William King. On the other hand, we lean over so far backward in the effort to compensate for our racist past that we find ourselves in absurd, politically correct postures, as for example when the District of Columbia government fired an employee for using the word "niggardly."

Black-on-white crime is also treated differently in the press from white on black offenses. Crimes like the horrible death inflicted upon James Byrd, rare though they are, are given heavy coverage. So are reports, though their accuracy is dubious, that blacks are treated less fairly by the criminal justice system than whites.

Though one hopes that the good will of communities like Jasper shines through despite the monstrousness of the crime, who can doubt that some black people will focus more on the crime than the response to it?

It's never easy to talk about crime between the races. Each fresh instance opens old, old wounds. But it does no one any favors to pretend that the great challenge in race relations today is violent white racists and their apologists. They are despicable, and are shunned and punished severely (King will get the death penalty).

But in 1999, the black-on-white crime rate simply dwarfs the white-on-black rate. As John DiIulio and William Bennett note in their book, "Body Count": "Blacks are about 50 times more likely to commit violent crimes against whites than whites are to commit violent crimes against blacks. ... Though only 12 percent of the population, blacks account for 50 to 60 percent of arrests for homicide, 50 percent of arrests for rape, 60 percent of arrests for robbery, and between 40 and 50 percent of arrests for aggravated assault."

It's no mystery why this is so, either. We know what kind of childhood is criminogenic. When children are born to single, young, drug- and/or alcohol-abusing mothers; when they are neglected and abused; when they are raised among criminals and the unemployed; when they witness violence against family members from a young age, they are quite likely to become criminals themselves. The percentage of black children who are born into such chaos compared with white children accounts exactly for the disparity in crime rates.

Most Americans struggle very hard to get their racial sensitivities correctly tuned. And courtesy is essential to national morale. But so is honesty, which cannot be sacrificed to political correctness.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.