This story by Spivak & Bice, if true, is disgraceful. Essentially, a guy named Bob Jacoby is being pursued by someone who has threatened to kill him. Jacoby has called 911, but sees a police car and flags it down. Because the officer was not the one dispatched to answer the call, he blows Jacoby off and goes on his way. It takes 17 minutes to dispatch someone. Fortunately, Jacoby isn't hurt. The thrust of the Spiceboys' column is the outrageous behavior of the cop. And it does sound awful.
But I was struck by another aspect of the story. The incident started when the Jacoby was walking his dog. Cory Flenorl, an African-American man, sitting on the porch of a house he walks by, allegedly begins to verbally harass him. When he crosses the street and some kids stop to pet his dog, Flenorl allegedly shouts "Get the (expletive) away from that cracker - he's a pervert, and I'm going to kill him," and starts to follow him.
Let's start by flipping the races (although I want to consider more than that). If Jacoby was a black man walking through a predominantly white neighborhood and a white guy had started to harass him, yelled "Get the ___ away from that n_____ - he's a pervert and I'm going to kill him" and then proceeded to stalk this innocent black man who was just walking his dog, we'd have public figures contorted into spasms of condemnation. We'd have rallies against racism. We'd have calls for "hate crime" charges. The daily would assume the editorial position and sonorously regret on how little progress we have made since the days of Jim Crow.
But as it happened, no one has even noticed the racial nature of the offense.
On one level, I can understand that. We have a long history of racism that was directed against blacks and we are sensitive about that. We should be.
On the other hand, racial harmony is not served by payback and, if targeting people for the color of their skin is a specially odious thing to do (hate crime laws assume that it is), then condemnation is just as called for in the case as it happened as it would be in the "flipped" hypothetical.
So why doesn't it happen? The trope about black racism being "impossible" because blacks lack power seems inapposite here. Flenorl certainly had the power to threaten, stalk and, although he did not, assault Jacoby
Is it because we don't think that it'll do any good? That we assume that outrage can strengthen societal norms against white racism but not black racism? That strikes me as the worst kind of condescension.
I have always wondered how much good it does to engage in extended public condemnation of criminals. Are they subject to moral suasion? The answer to that question, I think, is that society needs to periodically reaffirm its values. It needs to underscore the messages sent by the law. We don't do things like this. If that's so, then ought we not be equally concerned with black as with white racism?
Do we think that black racism is somehow "understandable" and thus less morally problematic? You could argue that, in some grand scheme of things, that there is a case to be made for this, but it too has troubling implications. If Flenorl's racist threats against Jacoby (assuming that he made them) are justified by white racism that Flenorl has experienced in the past, would Jacoby now be justified in expressing racist feelings of his own?
Maybe this angle of the story isn't as engaging because Jacoby wasn't hurt.