Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Distorting Sean Taylor Murder Still Sticks in Craw
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A handful of black sportswriters hit the ceiling when they read initial press reports on the shooting death of Washington Redskins All pro safety Sean Taylor. The issue was the perennial, suspect, and sneaky alleged double standard in the reporting on and public view of tragedies that befall blacks and whites, especially athletes and celebrities. The howl of protest goes up that when a black athlete is accused of bad behavior, criminality or boorishness the press and public go ballistic. They dredge up every misdeed the player has committed and ad nauseum drill it home that they are bad guys (or girls) and deserve the scorn of the nation.

When white athletes are accused of the same or worse bad behavior, criminality or boorishness, the excuses fly like raindrops in a hurricane, and then the news of their misdeeds vanishes from print and the airwaves faster than a Houdini disappearing act. Taylor is no exception to this rule, and the black journalists that raised the hue and cry were right to scream their lungs out about it.

The first accounts of Taylor’s murder were spare on details of the shooting, since there was almost none, and there were no suspects, no reported clues, and no reported motivation for the shooting. But the reports more than made up for the sparseness by dredging up every sordid detail about Taylor’s past run-ins with the law. The image rammed into the public brain, was what’s become a template for depicting supposedly bad behaving, bad acting young black males. The war of words was now on with a vengeance. The denials flew hot and heavy that any disrespect, and minimizing the tragedy, or that a subtle dump the blame for Taylor’s death on his alleged thug lifestyle was intended. After all, those run-ins did badly color his life. As distasteful as they might be, they were fair game for reporting.

That’s a good, even valid, point. Taylor did have problems, and there was nothing inherently inappropriate from a reporting, fact finding, or just plain human interest standpoint in saying that. The double standard line, however, is vaulted when a black athlete’s woes are continuously repeated, and endlessly speculated about as a possible reason for their murder. Though in most accounts after the initial harp on Taylor’s past, balance was restored, and the reports emphasized the suffering of his parents, friends, and fans. There were sympathetic quotes about Taylor being a mature, positive role model, and about the pace of the investigation.

Yet, while follow-up stories mercifully dropped the dig at his past, the new take on him was that he had turned his life around. That still left the bitter taste that Taylor was a bad guy that went good, but it might have been too late to save him. To their credit most fans and writers and much of the public were more than willing to step past the blatant initial and ongoing subtle bias and give Taylor his mournful due. But the bad taste of the initial paint of Taylor as a bad actor stuck like a lead weight in the craw.

This isn’t the only thing that’s hurtful in the coverage of Taylor. There was the hint, and some talking heads did more than hint, that though Taylor was a rich, star athlete, he was still a young black male. And like all young black males he was in mortal peril of being gunned down. In other words his fame and athletic prowess did not shield him from the black on black violence that supposedly rages in all big city poor black neighborhoods.

The problem with that as with the skewed initial picture of Taylor is that it’s a lie. Taylor did not live in a poor, black inner city Miami neighborhood. He lived in a palatial suburban home with his long time companion and daughter. Those that actually knew him said that he was a loner and that he did not hang out with a drug peddling, gang connected crowd.

But even if Taylor was the thug that initial accounts subtly implied he once was, the Taylor as a casualty of black violence line still is a falsity. Murder rates among young black males in Tayor's 16 to 24 year old age group are still far higher than those among young white males. But those rates in Taylor’s age group have plummeted in the last decade according to FBI crime reports, as have murder rates in most urban areas. In New York City, for instance, murder rates have dropped to the lowest level in forty years. In Miami-Dade County, crime plunged more than 20 percent and murder rates also dropped. The chances of a young black male dying at the hands of another young black male are far less today than in the past.

The senseless snuffing out of Taylor’s life was a heartbreaking tragedy. But it’s Taylor’s death, not his life, that’s the only thing that should leave a bad taste. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press)



Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Although I didn't know much about the guy, I feel very sympathic toward his death. You described him as a very good guy.

The first thought that popped into my mind wasn't "another foolish thug got killed" but rather "why are our atheletes being killed?".

I'm actually quite upset.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you can recount someone's life, without talking/writing about everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. You are a journalist. You should know this. You are doing the person a terrible disservice only printing "half-trues" or "painting a pretty picture." Sorry, Sean Taylor wasn't a Brett Favre. I've read nothing that out-right dogged Taylor. As one columnist wrote, "No disrespect to Taylor, but HE controlled the way he would be remembered by the way he lived." AMEN! Anyway, it's not how you start; it's how you finish. Regardless of his ups and downs, another black man lost to violence. I would even speculate and say, black on black crime. Sadly, many troubled black men end up like M. Vick or S. Taylor.

As far as "murder rates in most urban areas have gone done" – have you checked the Washington, DC murder rate? Why would you even check statistics for NY? To prove YOUR point?! Taylor didn't play in NY. His home was Miami and he played for the Washington Redskins. Washington DC murder rate for black males is "off the chain" this year. We have already passed the murder rate final number for 2006.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I have to agree with Mustangsallie.
I'm not saying he wasn't a good person because not many people can really claim to be but when you've lived a troubled life and did so purposely then you will reap what you sow.
So trying to make this about race isn't going to help.
I've been to the funerals of both my older brother and my only older sister who both died because of the unsavory people they knowingly chose to associate with so I'm not going to paint their lives as rosy and apple pie when they were anything but because that was the life they felt suited them.
I will however pray for his daughter since she will miss him the most regardless of his past mistakes. Since she didn't have a say when it came to her parents.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Hutch, I tend to like this column a lot better than yours . . . `Murder is the greatest injustice of all'

Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis in the article. There is a double standard in race reporting. Too many times the media tends to strip away the humanity of African Americans. This man got killed and left a loving family behind. He was not a street thug. His father was the chief of police. Let's contrast his reporting to that of the Omaha mall shooter. No one is linking his rampage to a "white" cultural lifestyle. White society escapes any finger pointing or blame. Instead, what we are left with is a troubled individual.

Anonymous said...

Please google: This conversation on the Alex Jones radio show, KLBJ, Austin, Tx, 01/1307.
Dr. Paul is not a racist. This is not and has not been a part of his moral character, nor part of the libertarian platform that he has been associated. Of course, I dare you to publish this response, because I know you will not. Why are people in the press, so against Ron Paul? What are you guys afraid of....a country that might take the RIGHT course; no more Americans involved in foreign conflicts. I mean, what would you publish or report on then? Am I right?

NAACP President: Ron Paul Is Not A Racist
Linder says Paul being smeared because he is a threat to the establishmentAustin NAACP President Nelson Linder, who has known Ron Paul for 20 years, unequivocally dismissed charges that the Congressman was a racist in light of recent smear attempts, and said the reason for him being attacked was that he was a threat to the establishment.
Linder joined Alex Jones for two segments on his KLBJ Sunday show this evening, during which he commented on the controversy created by media hit pieces that attempted to tarnish Paul as a racist by making him culpable for decades old newsletter articles written by other people.
"Knowing Ron Paul's intent, I think he is trying to improve this country but I think also, when you talk about the Constitution and you constantly criticize the federal government versus state I think a lot of folks are going to misconstrue I think it's very easy for folks who want to to take his position out of context and that's what I'm hearing," said Linder.
"Knowing Ron Paul and having talked to him, I think he's a very fair guy I just think that a lot of folks do not understand the Libertarian platform," he added.
Asked directly if Ron Paul was a racist, Linder responded "No I don't," adding that he had heard Ron Paul speak out about police repression of black communities and mandatory minimum sentences on many occasions.
Dr. Paul has also publicly praised Martin Luther King as his hero on many occasions spanning back 20 years.
"I've read Ron Paul's whole philosophy, I also understand what he's saying from a political standpoint and why people are attacking him," said Linder.
"If you scare the folks that have the money, they're going to attack you and they're going to take it out of context," he added.
"What he's saying is really really threatening the powers that be and that's what they fear," concluded the NAACP President.

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