A few weeks ago, after writing about Ethan Saylor for The Nation, I received a number of questions about why President Obama didn’t speak out about Saylor’s death the way he did for Trayvon Martin.
I argued that these questions were misguided. People get murdered every day, the president weighed in because it became a national question about race, violence, and the miscarriage of justice: Zimmerman wasn’t even charged initially before public pressure moved the prosecutor to act (with the results we all know). But people inclined to see the president as a racist, which is one of the dumb things that Fox News and other conservative media outlets say constantly, of course view Obama’s engagement with the Martin case as a sign that he only cares about black people.
The key issue with Martin is that his death became the symbol for a much wider phenomenon – the racial profiling of young black men as criminals – therefore it caught much of the national imagination and became something of a Rorschach test. Ethan Saylor is not seen as a pattern, just a local tragedy, and so it remains a story only for those who live in the area and for those, like me, who argue differently. This is why in my writing I’ve been arguing both that police often treat people with disabilities particularly badly and for the broader cult of compliance.
So now Fox News and The Daily Caller and the like (no links provided intentionally) are arguing that Obama and Sharpton and all their other favorite black people must speak out on the murder of Christopher Lane, the Australian baseball player in Oklahoma, or prove their racism.
Well, I’m ready to speak out about Lane’s death: He was murdered. His killers were identified, apprehended, and questioned. At least two have confessed. They will go to jail for a long time. If OK has the death penalty, they may even get executed, but I hope not. In any event, this is what a justice system looks like.
I’ll leave the comparisons between the justice system’s outcomes for Martin and Saylor as opposed to Lane, to the reader.