Eighteen. That's how many black people are murdered per day in America. If you don't have the misfortune to live near one of those eighteen, you didn't hear about any of them.
There are nearly 7,000 African American homicides a year, but only one has grabbed us by our eyeballs and won't let go. The Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman killing has propelled itself to the front of our national consciousness, while the others go virtually unnoticed.
Why all the attention? What so different about this case?
Nothing. It's not about the case; it's about the cast.
It doesn't even matter if George Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, that's beside the point.
The point, of course, is race. When a gangbanger bangs one out, it's a simple, common crime. But when a sort-of-white wannabe cop and neighborhood bully kills a black teenager, a couple of strange, powerful things happen.
First, the victim becomes a choirboy by acclamation. It's as if the populace couldn't understand the narrative if the kid had a pot bust in junior high.
And second, the killer becomes a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
L ook, I don't want to trivialize this or offend anyone's sensibilities, but there is a direct parallel here with the use of the N word.
Nobody likes it, but if you use it you'd better be black. A black man killing another black man is an all-too-common tragedy. A white man killing a black man is an act of race war.
Our collective memories know that there is something especially heinous about this kind of crime.
We hate murderers, but not all murders are considered equal. A killing in the 'hood is a shame. A serial killing is an outrage. If the details are particularly gruesome we make a movie about it.
But even an interracial school slaughter like Virginia Tech, where one person killed 32, has less impact on the nation than the Zimmerman case. When the murderer was a disturbed Asian boy and most of the victims white, race didn't seem to be a factor. It's the act that sticks in our minds four years later, not the perpetrator.
I'm willing to bet not ten percent of my readers can bring the name Seung-Hui Cho to mind when thinking about Virginia Tech. I know I had to Google it.
But George Zimmerman's name will be remembered in four years; those of us still alive will remember it in forty. Whether he's guilty or not.
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