Delric Miller IV died in a hail of bullets a month ago. When someone fired 37 AK-47 rounds into his Detroit home at 4:30 a.m., he was mortally wounded while dozing on the couch. He was nine months old. No one made the multicolored teething ring he got for Christmas or his toy hammer into a national symbol of random violence.
Last year, Charinez Jefferson, 17, was shot and killed on a Chicago street. “She begged the shooter not to shoot her because she was pregnant,” a pastor explained. The alleged assailant, Timothy Jones, 18, shot her in the head, chest and back after seeing her walking with a rival gang member. New York Times columnist Charles Blow did not write a column about Jefferson’s killing as a symbol of the perils of being a young black woman in America.
Last June, a stray bullet from a confrontation on a Brighton Beach, N.Y., boardwalk killed 16-year-old Tysha Jones as she sat on a bench. A 19-year-old man, out for revenge after an earlier scuffle on the boardwalk, was charged in the shooting. Tysha’s heartbroken mother was not featured on all the national TV shows.
In January, 12-year-old Kade’jah Davis was shot and killed when, allegedly, 19-year-old Joshua Brown showed up at her Detroit house to demand the return of a cellphone from Davis’ mother. When Brown didn’t get the phone, he fired shots through the front door. No one held high-profile street protests to denounce gunplay over such trifles.
Everything about the Trayvon Martin case is a matter of contention. About this, though, there should be no doubt: If Martin had been shot by a black classmate, if he had been caught in a random crossfire, if he had looked at a gang member the wrong way, his death would have been relegated to the back pages of the local newspaper. Not a cause, not even a curiosity: Just another dead young black man. Nothing to see here. Please, move on.
Jesse Jackson is right that “blacks are under attack.” According to a 2005 FBI report, blacks accounted for 13 percent of the population and 49 percent of all homicide victims. In 93 percent of the cases, the killer was black. Half of the victims were ages 17 to 29. That works out to 4,000 murders of young blacks in one year, overwhelmingly at the hands of other blacks. In the communities where these killings occur there is, to put it in Jackson’s inimitable terms, no justice and no peace.
There is no comparable epidemic of half-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteers like George Zimmerman shooting young black men. Nor is there an epidemic of cops doing the same. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute notes that in New York City, there were nine civilian victims of police gunfire last year, whereas there were “several hundred black homicide victims in the city, almost all shot by other blacks or Hispanics, none of them given substantial press coverage.”
An allegedly racially motivated killing, though, gins up the outrage machine in a way the routine murder of young blacks doesn’t. Cable-TV outlets get to host fiery debates. Chin-stroking commentators get to urge more “dialogue.” Black leaders get to relive the glory of a civil-rights cause that won its major victories decades ago when it took real courage to be on the front lines. And everybody gets to evade the intraracial mayhem that blights the country’s inner cities.
An injustice may well have been done in the handling of the Martin shooting, but let’s not fool ourselves. Zimmerman could be arrested, convicted, and hanged tomorrow, and it will have no effect on the lives of young black people in communities beset by social disorder. Whatever happens to Zimmerman, the drip-drip of spilled blood will continue, all but ignored except in the police blotter. In America, the lives of young black people are cheap, unless they happen to fit the right agenda.