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A Stalked B. B is Dead. A is Free.

August 24, 2013

The brutal murders this week of Australian student Christopher Lane and World War II hero Delbert Benton have rightly prompted national soul-searching and national shame. But as predictable as the sunset and the force of gravity, the horrors in Oklahoma and Washington also triggered right-wing lectures about race, crime and politics. Just as in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict, conservatives insist Americans keep their eyes of the prize--violent young black men. And as the likes of Fox News, Pat Robertson and Kathleen Parker inform us, 50 years after the March on Washington, it's all Barack Obama's fault.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker on Friday offered perhaps the most incredible formulation of them all:

If I had a son, he would look like Christopher Lane, the 22-year-old Australian baseball player shot dead while jogging in Oklahoma.
If I had a father, he'd look like Delbert Belton, the 88-year-old World War II veteran beaten to death in Spokane, Wash.
And yes, if I had a son, he'd look like the white teenager who police say drove the getaway car in the Oklahoma killing.
These are all true statements if we identify ourselves and each other only by the color of our skin, which increasingly seems to be the case. Even our president has done so.

For Parker, who also details her own painful history of oppression and racial profiling while shopping in a Georgetown boutique, President Obama's identification with the parents of Trayvon Martin is at the root of our current color-conscious commentary. As she concludes, "Victim in chief is no role for a president."
But in addressing the nation in the aftermath of Zimmerman's acquittal, Barack Obama wasn't acting as victim-in-chief but instead the Explainer-in-Chief. The President's essential task was to help all Americans understand what had just happened in a Florida courtroom. At the same time he was asking all of us to both remember their history and respect the judicial process, Obama was also asking for millions of Americans to exhibit empathy towards the millions of their fellow Americans wrestling with this question:

A man stalked an unarmed boy. The boy was killed. The man is free. How could that happen?

The issue is about crime and punishment, or more accurately, the lack of it. In the Martin case, the injustice was double. All President Obama was asking Americans to do was reflect on what flaws and biases in our laws, our institutions and ourselves were at work when Trayvon Martin died and when George Zimmerman walked free.
Which is why the Martin case is not like the tragedies this week. At the end of the day, the killers of Delbert Benton and Christopher Lane have been apprehended. They will be tried and almost certainly convicted. Meanwhile, George Zimmerman is free to buy more guns.
I for one am grateful that my Explainer-in-Chief was Barack Obama.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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