Since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, the responses to the tragic event and the verdict have been predictable.
That an unarmed youth lost his life and the perpetrator walked free catalyzed sometimes-violent protests. However unfortunate, that is not surprising. Legal nuances of second-degree murder, evidentiary rules and jurors' decisions don't penetrate the fog of the 24/7 news cycle. There also have been some reasonable discussions of the propriety and impact of "stand your ground" laws and whether Florida's played a role in the verdict.
What isn't reasonable or appropriate is the hysterical response of some civil rights advocates who have peddled a dishonest analysis of the tragedy. Their message has been repeated and has become the settled wisdom for some: Young black males are at physical risk, and it is the bigotry of whites that has put a target on their backs.
The musings of Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton echoing the theme - America is a dangerous place for young black males - have been widely reported. Tavis Smiley opined that the verdict was "just another piece of evidence of the incontrovertible contempt that this nation often shows and displays for black men."
What is so insidious about this message of victimhood and division is its dishonesty. Despite the tragic death of Martin, there is no wave of bigotry directed at blacks. All this talk is demagogic posturing, and it's dangerous. Young people will absorb this message and view the "other" with suspicion and fear.
These leaders know, even if many of their adherents might not, that the biggest threat to the lives of young blacks is other young blacks, not white bigots. Between 2000 and 2010, 4,607 black murder victims 17 or younger were killed by other blacks (4,441 of the killers were 17 or younger), according to the Wall Street Journal. There were 340 black victims 17 or younger killed by (non-Latino) whites. That means black youths were 13 times more likely to be killed by a black person than by a white one.
These data have been constant for more than a decade, yet "leaders" and the far-too-complicit media purvey a notion that inter-group relations have deteriorated.
What is the reality? In January, Pew Research released a poll on group conflicts. It found that 58 percent of respondents see more disputes between rich and poor, and 55 percent see more between immigrants and native-born than see disputes between blacks and whites (39 percent). And in 2008, a Pew poll concluded that "whites, blacks and Hispanics all have generally favorable opinions of one another and all tend to see inter-group relations in a more positive than negative light. ... The overall portrait of race relations is one of moderation, stability and modest progress." That says nothing about the 95 million millennials whose attitudes are far more tolerant than their elders on a whole range of issues relating to race.
It is clear that some have a vested interest in keeping tension alive. Their relevance, audience and fundraising are contingent on a perception that racial barriers remain, that fears persist and that their role as firemen is needed. The biggest threats to their viability are tolerance and an acknowledgment that inter-group relations are improving, that there is no war on black youth and that the country that elected Barack Obama to the presidency twice isn't demonizing kids who look like the first family.
We would all do well to spend our energies on issues that are real and the implications of the tragic Trayvon Martin death that make sense.
David A. Lehrer is president and Joe R. Hicks is vice president of Community Advocates Inc., a human-relations organization. They wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.
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