It was a fairly horrific scene. Long Beach, California: On a public street, in the dark of night on Halloween, a gang of about thirty youths beat three girls ages nineteen and twenty one. One of the girls was battered so severely she will require ongoing surgery to repair multiple fractures around her face and to reposition one of her eyes. That there were taunts alluding to the girls' race and gender made the beating fall under the special circumstances of a crime motivated by hate. The perpetrators were caught. The cops ID'ed nine of them as worthy of prosecution. Kids all. Thirteen to seventeen years of age when the crime was committed. This past Friday eight of the nine were convicted, their sentences yet to be determined. This story, beyond being sad for both the savagery of the crime and the youth of the offenders, also has a certain "through the looking glass" quality. In this hate crime the perps were black and the victims were white. The far right soldiers of the Retro Guard will have you believe that the liberal concept of "hate crime" means that when people of color are the perpetrators the law overlooks the very concept of racial motivation. Clearly that is not the case. But the fact that blacks have been convicted for violence against whites is no cause in particular for documentation and certainly not celebration of this crime. Violence, and especially violence motivated by hatred of race or gender or religion or sexual orientation or merely the fact that the vic is "different" is deplorable. Equally deplorable are those who pretend to stand for equality but who hypocritically allow such an injustice to pass without taking a stand against it. So in the aftermath of this whole mess there is one thing that stands out to me: the conspicuous absence from the scene of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. How is it that these two men, these two supposed champions of racial justice who went into a fit of histrionics when Michael Richards went on his "nigger" rant, were nowhere to be found when actual racial hatred manifest itself. The simple fact is, and this is no revelation but rather confirmation of what has been painfully obvious going on decades, neither Jesse nor Al are truly committed to any ideal higher than raising their own profile. To a degree, as with any public advocate, that's to be expected. It is a profile that gives one a platform from which to advance an agenda. But somewhere along the way Jesse and Al lost sight of an agenda based on true justice. Assuming they ever had one. Jesse, for example, rushed up to offer to pay the college tuition of the accuser in the Duke "rape" case. When it was pointed out to him that it had yet to be determined if the accuser had in fact been assaulted (and we're starting to get a pretty good idea of the reality of that) Jesse was asked if he would still pay the tuition if it turned out the woman was making false accusations. Jesse said that he would. Essentially he was offering to reward a woman for lying, for ruining young men's lives. Is that the message we want to send our young sisters; lie for your supper? If the accused in the Duke case been black and the accuser white, if the horrid specter of the Scottsboro Boys or Emmett Till had been infused in the case would Jesse have been as eager to throw money at the accuser? Doubtful. For his part the Reverend Al has got Tawana Brawley to live down. And for his role in that fiasco he's never once manned up to giving an apology. For either man, using the "Halloween hate crime" as an opportunity to prove their true commitment to racial justice would have been a welcome reversal to the years of descent into self-parody in which they have been sliding. The case in Long Beach is not over. It will be reexamined and appealed, and to an extent it should be. Though there is strong physical evidence linking the convicted with the crime, there are questions about their initial identifications. And in particular, because the convicted are so young, the system has an obligation to make absolutely certain the correct individuals are held accountable for their actions. It is such accountability our "leaders" should also demonstrate. If the likes of Al and Jesse are not willing to stand against all hate crimes, then they cannot truly stand for equality and civil rights. And merely because there was no "donation" or "consulting fee" offered is no excuse not to show solidarity with victims who became so merely because of their race.
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