The NAACP is up in arms over a police officer’s dismissive remark about a murder victim published in the Norwalk Hour, a community paper in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City. The murder victim, 17-year-old Tykwan Hunt, apparently was not unknown to the police. One police officer told The Hour: “The fact that he is dead makes the city safer. . . . If he had lived, he would have spent most of his life in jail. No one should be surprised by where this kid ended up. He lived like a gang member . . . he died like a gang member.”
No surprise that the NAACP is on the case, but think about it for a moment: The officer’s comment, while perhaps insensitive (and, perhaps, true) was in no way racial in its content. Hunt was criticized for being a gang member, not for being black. Is the NAACP’s position now that police may not criticize African-Americans, even if those African-Americans are gangsters? How, precisely, does it advance the cause of black people for the NAACP to take up the cause of a young man judged for being an apprentice career criminal (i.e., for the content of his character) rather than for the color of his skin? I can’t see that it does. It’s nothing but sound and fury, signifying zilch.
The police department is leaning on The Hour to disclose the name of the officer. I called the paper’s publisher this afternoon to ask whether he had disclosed the name or whether he planned to, but I haven’t heard back from him yet. I hope that the paper refuses to give up the name, if only to prevent the NAACP — an organization with zero remaining moral credibility — from ruining a police officer’s career.
As a newspaper editor, I heard police officers in cities as different as Austin and Philadelphia refer to certain murders as “public-service homicides.” That doesn’t mean that they aren’t investigated — they most assuredly are. The term merely gives vent to the gallows humor that is part-and-parcel of police work. (And of many other stressful professions, too: Journalists routinely refer to a crime as “a good murder” — meaning good for newspaper sales — and you don’t want to know how your surgeon talks about you.) My favorite instance of black humor (if the NAACP will forgive the term) among police is the T-shirt I once saw on a Philadelphia homicide detective: The Grim Reaper rising over the Philadelphia skyline and the motto: “Philadelphia Homicide: When Your Day Is Over, Ours Has Just Begun.”