We've seen it so often that it's now become laughable, pitiable, and disgraceful. But more than anything else it strikes to the heart of a grotesque truth about American hypocrisy. The "it" this time is the blatant and outrageous casual, almost matter of fact, infuriating racial double standard by law enforcement, much of the press and public officials when it's young black males committing mayhem versus young and not so young white males committing mayhem. It reared its ugly head again in the way that law enforcement handled and much of the media reported on the deadly shootout between two rival white Texas biker gangs. The carnage that left nine dead and scores wounded was, by any way you cut it, a public massacre. It was labeled a "feud," "a turf battle, " accompanied by a deluge of interviews from self-identified biker gang members painting themselves as a just another harmless, social club.
Then we saw the now infamous picture of scores of bikers who almost certainly in some way were connected with the mayhem, leisurely sitting on a road siding tweeting, surfing their cells, and yukking it up with each other. And just who did we see sitting beside them? We saw police officers seemingly just as casual; smiling, leisurely and nonchalant as if it was just another day at the office. Or, as if they had just hauled these guys over and detained them for nothing more compelling than for a speeding violation.
Suffice it to say, there have been no hysterical screeches branding them thugs, gangsters, animals, and vermin. There have been no indignant and furious calls from the press, citizenry, and elected officials for a swift, harsh, and massive crackdown, sweeps, and toss the book demands at them. The kind that we instantly hear leap from their mouths, drum the airwaves with, and pen angry editorials on when its young blacks on the hot seat.
This tired double standard script is so well-worn we can mail it in. Young whites tear up streets, overturn cars, and battle police after a championship hockey or basketball victory or loss. It's simply tagged as boys will be boys, acting out, Or, a young white male shoots up a school or theater. And there's the endless string of psycho babble pronouncements about his troubled childhood, drug and meds addiction and dependence, and psychological traumas, Or, how about, when young whites are popped for drug use. The pipeline for them is not to courts and jails, but to counseling and treatment, therapy, and prayers. Their drug abuse is chalked up to escape, frustration, or restless youthful experimenting. They get heart wringing indulgent sympathy, compassion, and a never-ending soul search for rational explanations, or should I say justification for their criminal, violent and yes, thug behavior.
The dual racial standard rests squarely on the pantheon of stereotypes and negative typecasting of young black males that continues to have deadly consequences in the assaults on and the gunning down of unarmed young black males under questionable circumstances. The hope was that President Obama's election buried once and for all negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat racial stereotypes posed to the safety and well-being of black males. It did no such thing. Immediately after Obama's election teams of researchers from several major universities found that many of the old stereotypes about poverty and crime and blacks remained just as frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceived those most likely to commit crimes are poor, jobless and black. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime were firmly rammed together in the public mind. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted, it's virtually impossible to root out. That's hardly new either.
In 2003, Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crime. This was no surprise given the relentless media depictions of young blacks as dysfunctional, dope-peddling, gang bangers and drive-by shooters. The Penn State study found that even when blacks didn't commit a specific crime; whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African-American.
Five years later university researchers wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway, even as white voters were near unanimous that race made a difference in whether they would or did vote for Obama. Researchers still found public attitudes on crime and race unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn't commit them.
The bulging numbers of blacks in America's jails and prisons seem to reinforce the wrong-headed perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young, black male face. The brutal reality is that Waco won't change that. It will be the proverbial one day in, one day out news story. And that will be that, that is until the next young black throws a rock or a bottle and then, well we know the script.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.