Why Some Lives Matter and Some Don’t:
Black Children, White Women, and Selective Outrage
Our wintry spring has impinged on my work life. Hustling through one nor’easter after another, I’ve not attended to news as much as I usually do. In spite of my relative inattention, two news stories resonated. National Public Radio sounded a familiar drumbeat: “Police shoot unarmed black man, father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard.” I heard those words, all carefully selected, repeated several times throughout the day, with the shrill, persistent urgency of a tornado warning. Tornado warnings demand that you abandon what you are doing and move to a shelter. “Police kill unarmed black man” demands that you abandon your idea of your nation and yourself and move to a new cognitive dwelling, one your betters have constructed for you.
The other news story was not a drumbeat but rather the “ping” of an appliance alerting the user to some minor emergency. I heard this headline three times only. An SUV had plunged over a cliff in northern California. The van’s eight inhabitants were all presumed dead. It was a mystery. This report did not require me to readjust my relationship to the world. I could waltz right past it, and not be inconvenienced by so much as a flicker of sadness for any of the eight departed fellow humans.
I did not stop doing laundry or watching “bomb cyclone” weather reports to turn up the volume and focus my attention. Even though I was using only the cells in my brain devoted to background awareness, those cells determined the following: “The media is lying to me in order to comply with the dictates of Political Correctness. Understanding those dictates, I can fill in the blanks.” Propaganda is so pervasive that my brain, on autopilot, concludes such things. Realizing that gave me an Orwellian feeling.
Powerful people want me to believe that a black man was relaxing in the spring sun, playing on the swing set of that most sacred geography, grandma’s house, when a white policeman drove by, and, aroused to murderous frenzy by his victim’s skin color alone, shot the young father dead in front of his sons. NPR was obsessively repeating the skin color of the dead man: black. NPR did not mention the skin color of the police officer. I concluded that the accused officer was black as well. Had he been white, NPR would have repeated the words “white police officer” as obsessively as it was repeating “black victim.” I also decided that the black man in question was not shot in the daylight, but probably at night, and that he was located in his grandmother’s backyard not as part of a social call, but somehow in relation to an alleged crime.
The fallen death van, at first, seemed unconnected to the shooting headline. I realized, the very first time I heard this headline, that there was nothing mysterious about the death van. Someone had driven that van over the cliff on purpose. What would cause police officers to be so cagey in accounts that they provided to the media, or the media’s handling of such accounts? The person who drove the van, and his or her relationship to the deceased, was protected by political correctness. I wondered if we’d ever learn the truth about that one.
The death van story is probably easier to tell. Jennifer and Sarah Hart were a white, lesbian, married couple who owned a home in Woodland, Washington, close to Portland. In photos, Jennifer and Sarah appear young and attractive, with long hair and high-wattage smiles. One can see them with their six black and brown adopted children, holding signs saying “Free Hugs,” “Embrace the Revolution,” “Love is Always Beautiful,” and wearing eight, matching, Bernie Sanders t-shirts at a Sanders rally. The Associated Press described them as “the Hart Tribe, a free-spirited family of two women and their six adopted children who raised their own food, took spontaneous road trips and traveled to festivals and other events, offering free hugs and promoting unity.” Friends described them “as loving, inspiring parents who promoted social justice and exposed their ‘remarkable children’ to art, music and nature.” Another friend said “They are beautiful examples of opening arms to strangers, helping youth, supporting racial equality … They brought so much joy to the world. They represented a legacy of love." Investigators of their van’s deadly plunge at first said that there was “no evidence and no reason to believe that this was an intentional act.”
News sources now acknowledge that the Harts abused and starved their adopted children. CNN provides a timeline including numerous complaints going back ten years. On March 23, 2018, officials visited the Hart home. The van was discovered on March 26. The Harts responded to notification of this new investigation, evidently, through murder-suicide. Three of the adoptees were found dead in the van; three of the children have still not been found. Devonte Hart is among the missing. Devonte gained international attention when he was photographed at a 2014 Black Lives Matter rally hugging a while police officer. Given what we know now, it is hard to look at this photo and not guess that Devonte might have wished that this white police officer would take him home and rescue him from his abusive parents.
The murder of six black and brown children by white adoptive parents: no one sees anything in this to protest. This may not keep you up at night, but it keeps me up at night. According to the National Children’s Alliance, in one recent year, “an estimated 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States … Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S annually.” I wonder when abused kids lives’ will matter. I wonder when abused kids will get their march, their turn in the spotlight. I wonder if the blind eye we too often turn to abused children tells us something about Black Lives Matter. Sadness over the victim’s death, it appears, is not the spark for protests. Protesters take to the streets not because they love the victim so much, but because they hate the alleged victimizer.
No one wants to protest murderous hippie lesbians. Imagine a white, heterosexual, Evangelical Christian couple from Alabama. Imagine that that couple had adopted six black and brown children, dressed them in matching “Make America Great Again” t-shirts and drove them around the country to Trump rallies. Imagine that that couple escaped the consequences of accusations of child abuse for ten years, and then drove those children off a cliff to their deaths. Do you think NPR would cover that story? Do you think that protesters would hit the streets over that? We know the answer. The children’s abuse and death would suddenly matter, not because they were different children, but because they had different victimizers, victimizers protesters were more primed to hate. Some black lives matter more than others.
I cannot assess whether or not the police officers who shot Stephon Clark on March 18, 2018 made the right decision. If I could turn back time and control behavior, both Clark and the police would make different decisions, and Clark would still be alive. Rather, this essay protests the dishonesty in accounts of Clarks’ death, and the selective outrage that focuses on deaths caused by hated others – white police officers – and ignores deaths caused by protected perpetrators.
This paraphrased NPR headline, “Police shoot unarmed black father of two in his grandmother’s back yard,” is merely a truncated version of a much larger narrative, like a flashcard a college student might study before an exam. It triggers a lengthy narrative, one that has become scripture and cannot be questioned. The police have shot another black man. This shooting is merely part of a larger epidemic of white cops shooting black men. This proves that America is white supremacist, and has always been. This proves that American soldiers dying to end slavery, that the Civil Rights Movement, that the election, twice, of a black president, are all unworthy of note. This proves that whites are racist and cannot resist the urge to destroy black lives. This proves that whites enjoy unearned privilege. This proves that blacks, no matter what they do, can never get ahead. That blacks who attempt self-advancement through working hard and playing by the rules are dupes, rubes, suckers. That their only sensible strategy is to wait for rich, white liberals to rescue them through generous social programs. That society must be overturned, root and branch. That any white person feeling any personal pride or patriotism must abandon such inappropriate emotions and hang his head in shame and newly commit to reparations, wealth redistribution, affirmative action, and perpetual white guilt. That police must exercise restraint in majority-minority neighborhoods. That anyone witnessing what they think is a crime committed by a black person must jettison that thought. This shooting proves all that.
One can see something like the above narrative in the April 1 New York Times “Rhythms of Tragedy” column by Charles M. Blow. “The system … is operating as designed” when cops shoot innocent black men. Blacks are “abused and betrayed in a country that sees them as expendable.” It’s a “true American tragedy.” America is guilty of “racially skewed cruelty and brutality.” Clark is “a casualty of American moral paucity, race-hostile policies and corrosive jurisprudence. The sound of his body falling to the ground became just another beat in America’s rhythm of state-sanctioned tragedy.” The Times chooses reader comments to highlight. Highlighted reader comments included, “society says it's ok that a police officer can shoot me in the back because of my black skin” and “gentle, responsible brown-skinned men are cannon fodder in police wars.”
I cannot argue, in this essay, using statistics, that the white-cops-shooting-black-men-epidemic narrative is false. I don’t have to. Scholars like Harvard’s Roland G. Fryer and the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald have already established this point, using statistics. These scholars argue, convincingly, that there is no epidemic of white cops disproportionally shooting black men.
NPR and other media outlets enshrine the above-summarized narrative, not through reference to statistics, but through selective outrage. A Google search turns up two NPR stories that mention alleged child abusers and murderers Jennifer and Sarah Hart in the past month. A similar search turns up more stories about Stephon Clark than I can easily count. The murder of six black and brown children stirs far less outrage at NPR than the police killing of Stephon Clark.
Selective mourning is not the only manipulative strategy at work. NPR and other outlets jigger when they mention identities. I could not find any NPR stories that refer to Nasim Aghdam, the YouTube shooter, as “The Iranian-American shooter” or as “The Bahai shooter.” Stephon Clark’s blackness has been mentioned in every NPR account of that shooting that I have heard. The black skin of one of the police officers who shot Clark has not been mentioned in any NPR broadcast I have heard.
Identity continues to trump objective truth as American Muslims, including Linda Sarsour, claim Stephon Clark as one of their own. In one twitter video, entitled “getting turnt,” meaning “getting drunk,” Clark and his girlfriend dance, party, and drink alcohol, a libation forbidden to Muslims. No matter. Clark is Muslim, activists like Linda Sarsour insist, so the cops killed him because of his Muslim identity. “If he wasn’t Muslim you wouldn’t care, huh?” asked one suspicious twitter user of Muslims claiming Clark, and outrage over Clark’s death, as belonging to them.
Sarsour sniffles melodramatically in a Facebook video exploiting the Clark shooting to undermine America. The title of her Facebook video is “Punish a Muslim Day.” Apparently the police, equipped with Muslim-detection-gear, were able to sniff out a Muslim and shoot him for no other reason than because he is a Muslim. British Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept also rushed, like a blowfly to carrion, to the Clark story. Hasan interviewed the woman Clark called his “baby momma” Hasan translated “baby momma” to “fiancée.” Hasan skillfully guided Salena Manni, in her grief, to support his, Hasan’s agenda, namely, “To change the legal systems. To change all the laws that they have within the police department, sheriff’s department. We just need change, you know?” We need change because, as Mehdi puts it, “Black Lives Still Don’t Matter.” Mehdi anathematizes any facts, and dismisses any corpses, that don’t advance his agenda. “You always hear this nonsense about black-on-black killings, which is a completely made-up concept … there’s no such thing as a black-on-black killing.” Statistics do not support Mehdi’s dismissal of black lives that do not matter to him, because those black lives were lost at the hands of black killers of blacks.
That Clark referred to the single mother of his children as a “baby momma” is not important to us as any assessment of the dead man. That he was, apparently, a dead-beat dad is not our business, and this information can’t be used to assess whether the shooting was justified or not. It is true that black journalist Larry Elder, and former president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, have both stated that the absence of black fathers is a greater threat to African Americans than white racism. But what matters here is this: liberal media is lying to us. One fact after another is exiled from news accounts, or manipulated. Rarely mentioned is the fact that the police were guided by helicopter images to their suspect, and that those images do not show race. That this all occurred at night, as part of a chase on foot. We are told that Clark loved his children, but not that he didn’t bother, apparently, to marry, live with, or support his children’s mother. Why would a journalist tell us that a dead man loved his children? What is the agenda here? Why are we not told that the officers involved loved their family members? Because the media is manipulating us, using something as sacred as parental love to lubricate a difficult-to-swallow formula: the death of Stephon Clark proves that America, is, root and branch, evil, and it must be replaced with whatever Linda Sarsour and Mehdi Hasan dictate replace it. Have either Mehdi Hasan or Linda Sarsour ever approached an obscure unknown like the mother of Stephon Clark’s children and said to that person, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” without following that nostrum up with, “But your loss just proves how corrupt America is, and how utterly America must change before it becomes acceptable”?
Some identities are clearly more equal than others at NPR. Heather MacDonald points out that white Americans who are shot to death are much more likely to have been shot to death by a police officer than black Americans who are shot to death. In other words, NPR has no reason to bang, over and over, on the “unarmed black man” drum. A Google search could not turn up any NPR discussions of Heather MacDonald’s work in relation to coverage of officer-involved shootings.
Black Lives Matter propaganda is not innocent. It claims victims as surely as bullets do. As Heather MacDonald points out, the demonization of police as racist murderers causes police to hesitate to do their jobs in the very neighborhoods that need police. Further, the insistence that no matter what they do, black people in America are doomed, paralyzes the blacks who believe it.
The L.A. Times reported that Stephon Clark, “had a criminal history, four cases in four years that included charges of robbery, pimping, and domestic abuse. Sacramento County court files show he pleaded no contest to reduced charges, spent time on a sheriff's work detail and was on probation for the 2014 robbery when he was killed.” A Facebook friend asked me, “What difference does it make?” Clark’s crimes made a big difference to those whom he pimped, robbed, and beat, all of whom were probably black. In Clark’s twitter feed, he acknowledged stealing. “I know for a fact y'all know a few people i robbed lol … I respect a nigga that will rob a nigga before they steal. Take it from a nigga in his face … You make a dollar off 100 packs and was stealing.... That's a broke Nigga.... Being greedy just makes you a broke nigga with cheese.” He joked about his treatment of women: “I'll be a horrible magician, cause I'll f--- a trick up.” Trick = woman. And he said he wanted nothing to do with black women. “I don’t want nothin black but a Xbox, dark bitches bring dark days.”
No one is arguing that Clark deserved to die. Rather, I am arguing that the media is lying when it announces “Unarmed black man, father of two, shot by cops in his grandmother’s back yard.” It’s the media’s job to report pertinent facts, and those facts include the following: the police had ample reason to conclude that they were protecting black citizens from an active home invader and thief – as helicopter images and phone calls to the police indicated. Those pertinent facts include that Clark had a history of breaking the law in a way that victimized his own black neighbors. No, Clark did not deserve to die. His twitter feed includes ugliness, like video of what looks like a black man beating a white man. But Clark’s twitter feed also includes beauty: “The look on my sons face when he seen me is so irreplaceable,” and “God was showing off his works when he created my son.” Clark was a young man whose love for his children and the woman he himself referred to as their “baby momma” might have turned him around. Watching videos of him getting high and repeating the n-word over and over, what one wishes most for Stephon Clark is parents, the kind of parents – a mother and a father – who know Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The night Clark was shot, all agree, he was engaging in behavior – running through a series of backyards after possibly being seen breaking into cars and one home – that made it more likely that he would have a deadly encounter with police. That simple fact, if more widely reported, might actually help to protect young black men from making the choices Clark made, and dying the death Clark died.
That whirring sound you hear is a can opener lifting the top on a package of canned excuses. “You just want police to escape from the consequences of their choices.” No, I don’t. I welcome the inevitable inquiry into whether the police acted correctly here. If no inquiry were scheduled, I would demand one. “You just hate black people.” Facts are race neutral, and the truth helps, not hurts. I want to grab those pushing the murderous, racist cop narrative and shake them. I want to demand, “What will save more black men’s lives? Demonizing police or urging black men to be more circumspect in their behavior, to avoid drugs, breaking the law, and non-compliance with police if stopped? Look, I’ll let you keep your hatred for whitey, for America, for the police, if you’ll give me this. Let’s start talking to black men about behavior around police. That will save lives. Demonizing cops won’t.”
More canned excuses: “You don’t care about Clark because police don’t kill white women like you. If your skin color were the same as Clark’s, you’d be hating on cops and demanding revolution, too.” The facts refute every canned excuse.
YouTube personality Michelle, aka Honestly Speaking, was born to a drug-addicted prostitute. She has no idea who her father was. She became a drug dealer herself, and did prison time. She tells her story in this video. Michelle addresses what she calls “Black Lives Matter Bulls---” in this video. Michelle says,
“The media says ‘White cop shoots black person. White cop shoots black person. White cop shoots black person.’ I’m so sick of it. … I’d like to understand why it is always racism. … If your black ass is not breaking the law, you don’t have to worry about the cops. … We do all these protests for all these guys supposedly shot by racist cops. … I have not seen one march for a little girl who was murdered in her bedroom while she did her homework. Nine out of ten times she was murdered by a random black kid. Drive-by shooting. No march for her. Black America, why do you fight so hard for criminals, and don’t even fight for children? Why do you fight so hard for these assholes, who break the law, who kill each other, who might even kill you? Why do all of us always have to follow behind the worst? I hope you women stop degrading yourselves just to be down.
“When I first started on my journey from being an asshole, a thug, people told me you’re never going to get anywhere. The white man won’t let you get anywhere. You ain’t never gonna be nuthin but a nigger in the white man’s eyes. Black lives matter for thugs, but what about for kids? What about the kids that got shot this year by the thugs you want to protest for? You don’t protest for college students. You won’t protest for babies murdered in their homes by their mom’s boyfriends.
“Black people, wake the f--- up. Can’t nobody stop your life but you, and you’re doing a great job of it … When are you going to realize that the only life that the Black Lives Matter campaign cares about is not yours?”
Some African Americans did not beatify Stephon Clark because, as they put it, he and his girlfriend tweeted anti-black and misogynist material. That discussion is here. One woman was uncompromising in her refusal to join the bandwagon: “I’m a black woman and to me he got what he deserved! He put bigotry and hate into the world and that’s what he got back! He literally was the definition of division and hate and now we as black women are supposed to put ourselves in harms way for a black man that would have mocked our death! Not me, I’m tired of black men let Asian women protest I’m sitting this one out!”
To the canned comment that I’m saying what I’m saying here because I’m a white woman, and white women are not murdered by cops.
On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-born veterinarian and meditation and yoga coach, phoned police to report a possible rape. After police arrived, Damond met them. She was unarmed and wearing pajamas. Officer Mohamed Noor, allegedly without provocation, shot Damond to death. There were no riots. Linda Sarsour did not cry on camera. Mehdi Hasan did not interview Damond’s surviving loved ones. NPR did not offer wall-to-wall coverage. No national figure implied that race or religion played a role in Noor’s shooting of Damond. There were no calls for major changes in policy.
In one of the few easily accessible records of the short life of Mary Hawkes, a one-minute, forty-second YouTube video, Hawkes recites a poem. The video is accompanied by a photo of an ethereally beautiful child snuggling with an obviously beloved dog. Hawkes may be telling us about her own life, and what she tells us is hard to hear. She wrote the poem in jail. She is, she says, “from a cave of darkness, where happiness is only a dream … where drugs are the only escape … the only light to guide me is at the tip of the joint.” She dreams that “someday” she might “find a place to belong.” Meanwhile, she is “poked by mom’s own needles … she doesn’t know when to stop hitting … I can’t hit back cause she’s my mom.”
Mary Hawkes was shot to death by a police officer on April 21, 2014. She was 19 years old. The shooting was questionable enough that the officer who shot her was fired and, in 2018, four years after this shooting of this white girl, her survivors received a five million settlement. There were no riots. There was no wall-to-wall coverage. Linda Sarsour did not cry on camera. Mehdi Hasan did not draw any historic lessons about fundamental changes necessary to make America an acceptable country. My search turned up only one NPR story covering her death, and only two New York Times news accounts. There were no tear-jerking, breast-beating editorials by Charles M. Blow or anyone else. Mary Hawkes was a white trash, abused girl. Her life did not matter.
The Albuquerque Journal, a local paper, covered the Hawkes shooting. A poster, a female, like Hawkes, white, like Hawkes, raked Hawkes over the coals, blamed her for her own death, and praised the police. This tough-as-nails post is the most “liked” comment on the girl’s death. Theresa Schmitz wrote, in part, “While I find it sad that a 19 year old should die so young, this article is crap. They want to make APD [The Albuquerque Police Department] look like they killed this great person because APD is so horrible. It's getting old already. Sadly, good people make stupid choices and every choice has a consequence. Unfortunately, she made that choice and was shot. This article is a nice attempt at sugar coating a troubled teen. It doesn't matter what your intentions are, if you don't follow rules, there are consequences … They want to paint this picture of APD killing an educated, puppy loving, little girl when the fact of the matter is she wad (sic) a troubled teen now adult at the age of 19 who made three bad decisions … Its all about accountability and that happens years before APD gets involved in a person's life. In fact, APD would never be around if parents did a better job at disciplining, courts did a better job at sentencing, mentors food a better job at mentoring ... APD is the last resort because the rest of that failed. See it for what it is.”
When white people live confused lives and end up dead, other white people often chastise them. This is a very different societal response than that of Black Lives Matter activists.
One thing is clear. Mary Hawkes and Justine Ruszczyk Damand, the Hart children and the black victims of gun violence in Chicago, like that prototypical black girl shot at home while doing her own homework invoked in Michelle’s YouTube video, are every bit as dead as Stephon Clark. Powerful people decided that one death mattered, and that the others didn't.
Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete and Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype. Her book God through Binoculars will be out later this year.