A beleaguered Knoxville, Tennessee police chief, Sterling Owen IV was emphatic in his stern remarks at a press conference in mid-May. There was absolutely no evidence, Owen said, that the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were racially motivated. The chief had to be forceful and direct in his admonition about the torture killing of the young white couple this past January. As the trial of five young blacks charged with the couple's murder approaches, several white supremacist groups have threatened to stage a noisy protest in Knoxville against what they call the double standard in the case.
They scream that the national press routinely clamps a wall of silence on black on white murder cases because it fears inflaming racial tensions, and is scared stiff that it will be called racist for talking up black on white crimes. Yet when whites assault or murder blacks the press and civil rights leaders supposedly leap over each other to blare it out as headline news.
This is a false, self-serving, and cheap ploy to knock the press and civil rights leaders. However, the gruesome murder of Christian and Newsom does cast a troubling glare on an aspect of violent crime in America crime that isn't much talked about beyond the rants of white extremists. And that's that whites are far more likely to be the victims and blacks their assailants in interracial crimes than the other way around. Those crimes are seldom if ever labeled hate crimes. In the past five years, according to FBI figures, on average there were about 1 million and a half to 2 million racial crossover crimes in the country.
In a well-meaning effort to counter the notion that there's an explosion of black on white crime, authorities in Knoxville culled Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stats on violent crimes and noted that in the vast majority of these crimes whites are more likely to maim and kill other whites, and blacks do the same with other blacks. Violent crimes in the state and the nation no matter the color of the victim and perpetrator have dropped during the past five years.
Buried in the stats, though, the report found that black offenders commit four times as many crimes against whites as the reverse. That inadvertently adds fuel to the charge that whites are under assault from blacks. The president of the Knoxville NAACP swiftly denounced the killings and expressed deep sorrow for the victim's families. Yet, there's some truth to charge that civil rights leaders generally don't express outrage at heinous crimes committed by blacks against whites. Many blacks generally shrug off the crimes with the bitter remark that whites have been killing blacks for years and getting away with it and there has been no massive explosion of white outrage at the lax treatment of white killers.
The seeming nonchalance of many blacks toward black on white crime doesn't mean that blacks are insensitive to the victims of crime. They aren't. They are far more likely than any other group in America to be the victims of violent crime, and they know first hand the pain and suffering violent crime causes. They don't color-code crime, crime is crime, no matter the color of the victim, or assailant. There is also no evidence that black criminals target whites because they are white. They target them for their money and valuables. These crimes are almost all cases garden-variety street crime.
Police and prosecutors in trying to determine whether to prosecute an interracial murder or attack as a hate crime or not have to figure out is their racial animus in the crime. For it to be a hate crime they have to prove that a black intentionally targeted a white victim solely because of their color. That's takes hard evidence of racial taunts, threats, writings, or statements by the perpetrator to prove race was the motivating factor in the attack. In the absence of that evidence, the charge that the attack was a hate crime won't fly.
The suggestion that the national press engages in a cover-up to quash murders committed by blacks of whites because it's afraid to offend blacks is absurd. The better explanation is that crime news is so routine that unless the accused murderer is O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, or Robert Blake or a name celebrity there's little chance it's going to be the stuff of endless nightly nationwide newscasts.
Still, black-on-white violence anywhere stirs fear among some whites that crime-prone blacks are out to get them, and they'll seize any opportunity they get to commit violence against them. When blacks say or do nothing about these attacks it is taken by some as a tacit signal that blacks put less value on white lives than black lives. This is ridiculous. But white supremacists will still scream loudly that the Knoxville murders of Christian and Newsom proves there's a double standard in interracial murder cases. That scream should be ignored.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.