A 22-year-old Australian man, in the United States to attend college and play baseball, was senselessly gunned down in Oklahoma recently.
Christopher Lane did nothing to provoke the attack. In Duncan, Okla., to visit his girlfriend, he was merely jogging in a usually pleasant, safe neighborhood when he was shot in the back. Three young men have been arrested in connection with the killing, two of them — ages 16 and 15 — charged with murder. One told police they were just bored, had chosen Lane at random and pulled the trigger for “the fun of it.”
It almost goes without saying that this is infuriating — the act and the attitudes alike — and that there’s something terribly and irredeemably wrong in the wiring of these young men. If what has been alleged is true, their lives are effectively over. If they were bored with the slow pace of an Oklahoma summer, wait until they see what the potential for a lifetime in prison has in store. Shed no tears for them.
Did we fail to mention, by the way, that the victim was white, and that two of the three alleged perpetrators — the two charged with murder — are black?
That’s because we tend not to view these matters first or primarily through the lens of race, with police giving little indication race was the motivating factor here. Perhaps we don’t have much company in that regard, as that has not stopped many Americans, some locals among them, from immediately inferring otherwise. Predictably, given the almost palpable desperation on the part of some to find a counterpoint to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, we also heard echoes of the Wall Street Journal editorial that noted “there was no saturation cable TV coverage, no press conference featuring Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, and no statement from the Oval Office,” as of course there was, in time, with Martin. Not uncommonly that was accompanied by not-so-subtle implications that there was some media conspiracy at work here, some purposeful intent to downplay or ignore the story, again because of the pigmentation of those involved. It gets old.
People’s memories are short, of course, and so they don’t recall that it took a while for the Martin-Zimmerman saga to percolate to the surface of the national consciousness. The first mention of Martin to make its way to this newspaper came nearly a month after his 2012 death — in a column by Leonard Pitts — mostly because the incident happened in Florida, not central Illinois, where we have enough violent crime of our own to keep us busy. Lane was sadly killed on Aug. 16, so this story has moved at light speed, relatively speaking.
Since the conclusion of the Zimmerman trial and the reactions to the verdict, we have noticed a rather unfortunate and unhealthy obsession with race on the part of some when the subject is crime — particularly perceptions of black-on-white crime — as if skin color itself is the cause. Arguably that has more to do with individual bias than reality, given U.S. Justice Department crime statistics that show white and black Americans alike have far more to fear from members of their own race than they do from those who look differently. In one of the more exhaustive long-term studies of the subject, in 84 percent of homicides where whites were the victims, the assailant also was white; where the victims were black, 93 percent of the offenders also were black.
Page 2 of 2 - But that doesn’t fit the narrative — accuracy not necessarily relevant — that some have chosen to perpetuate. There may well be a so-called “race grievance industry” in America, populated by those who have made a career of exploiting tragedy and exacerbating racial division for personal gain. For those who fit that description, we make no apologies, But is there not likewise a race-baiting industry on the opposite side, guilty of same?
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he uttered the memorable line, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
No doubt King would be amazed in some ways by the progress America has made on race relations, if also grievously disappointed by the lack of it in others, for a variety of reasons, with blame to spare on both sides. His comments that day have been widely interpreted as being desirous of a color-blind society, but we’d suggest — as do some of those children of his — that was not what he sought so much as a nation whose citizens do not see color first, and foremost, in judging others.
Evidently three teens in Oklahoma, black and white alike, were horrifically lacking in that character department. It is on that basis that we should view them and their alleged crime, in a nation that is producing too many fundamentally broken, lost, conscienceless young men. “Why?” is what we should be asking. Those who focus on color to the exclusion of so many other factors are missing the point, and the potential remedies.
But so it goes, back and forth, on and on and on, achieving nothing of value in an America that remains well short of realizing King’s worthwhile dream.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.