By Alan Bean
Media narratives are conversation starters; they energize American opinion leaders to reveal their true colors. And when those true colors come shining through, it ain’t always pretty.
Two Associated Press stories appeared side-by-side in the print edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram this morning. In the first, Richard Land, the semi-official mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned black pastors like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for rallying to the defense of Trayvon Martin’s parents in a crude attempt to gin up the vote for a black president who is in “deep, deep, deep trouble.”
According to the article, Land “defended the idea that people are justified in seeing young black men as threatening because a black man is ‘statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.'”
Asked to comment on Land’s remarks, the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said Land’s rash comments have set back Southern Baptist attempts to bridge the racial divide. McKissic is so incensed, he is threatening to introduce a resolution at the SBC’s June convention calling for the denomination to repudiate Land’s position. “If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago.”
In the second article, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, lashed out at the media for focusing obsessively on racially charged violence while ignoring the victims of routine violent crime. Violent crime is a fact of life across America, LaPierre opined, “but the media, they don’t care. Everyday victims aren’t celebrities. They don’t draw ratings, don’t draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does.”
The conflation of the NRA and the SBC suggests an appropriate response to Dr. Land: “Statistics don’t kill people; people kill people.” The fact that George Zimmerman didn’t see a lot of young black men in his gated community did not give him the right to pack heat, stalk his victim, and spark a dangerous confrontation. It matters not whether Trayvon Martin resorted to violence; Zimmerman was the sole author of the encounter and bears responsibility for Martin’s death.
Which brings me to Mr. LaPierre. It is certainly true that the vast majority of American homicides leave little media footprint and that the victims of these crimes are left to grieve alone. The Martin case wouldn’t have been newsworthy if George Zimmerman had been arrested. In fact, until Trayvon’s parents decided to take their case to the nation, the media ignored the fact that Zimmerman walked away from what is now considered a second degree murder without consequence.
Dr. Land’s inability to empathize with his black Baptist colleagues becomes particularly striking when you try to imagine the SBC leader taking on the NRA. The Trayvon Martin case isn’t just about racial profiling; it’s also about dangerous Stand Your Ground laws that have received bipartisan support in a number of state. Can we imagine Dr. Land excoriating his Republican bed mates for supporting dangerous legislation that has allowed a number of gang members to walk away without so much as a slap on the wrist when their beefs get out of control and some mother’s son lies gasping in a pool of his own blood?
Land would never take on the NRA. Sharpton and Jackson stand with president Obama, not because they agree with him on every issue (they don’t), but because the Republican Party has no tolerance for civil rights leaders. You can be black and Republican, but only if you aren’t concerned about racial justice.
It should also be said, that both Sharpton and Jackson have regularly been involved in public events designed to tackle the problem of gang violence and black-on-black violence. If the media fails to give these initiatives the attention they deserve, the Reverends cannot be faulted.
The Trayvon Martin case didn’t create the lamentable cleavage between black and white Baptists, but mirror image reactions to the story have certainly exposed the racial divide in religious America.