Crime as Politics

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In the last few days, the local Fresno community was outraged -- or at least was reportedly to be so -- at the vandalism of a local Islamic cultural center.

The police authorities almost immediately, and without waiting for the full evidence to be collected, declared the minor burglary and damage the apparent dividend of illiberal dark forces. The chief of police, without compelling evidence, and without explaining why a secular medical building was also trashed in the spree, rushed to hold a press conference. He declared the broken window and moderate trashing of the center’s interior, not just a “hate crime,” but in fact a “brazen hate crime.”

What next followed was Fresno’s comic version of what now is normal race and gender news. Almost immediately it was learned that there was a video of the suspected perpetrator in mediis rebus. Mr. Asif Mohammad Khan was a Muslim, with a record of mental disturbances, and had attended the center. He claimed that he had vandalized the buildings as part of payback to other center attendees who, he claimed, had bullied him -- and reportedly was known to be an admirer of Osama bin Laden. The “brazen” hate crime and the atmosphere of intolerance vanished with the local morning fog. The FBI, of course, is still “investigating” a possible “hate crime.” But they too will quietly go away in short order.

But just a few days earlier, there was another Fresno crime captured on video, both violent and in theory fueled by racial animus, or at least more deserving of a FBI second look at such a possible catalyst. At a local municipal bus stop an elderly man with a walker bravely protested that a large youth was bullying a smaller teen. The video captures the thug in response yelling at the defender, then striking the man to the pavement. The latter hit his head on his walker and momentarily lost consciousness.

The attacker was a large, rather young African-American; the victim a 62-year-old white man. What followed was no police hectoring. No lectures about the safety of the city’s bus stops. No police chief warnings about interracial tensions. No brazen hate crime sermons about the hale and young attacking the elderly or disabled. Indeed the police initially did not even consider the attack a crime, but rather a “fall.” Only a chance bystander’s video of the incident led to a reinvestigation and the suspected perpetrator’s arrest.

Unlike the city’s failed effort to turn the Islamic center vandalism into a teachable moment, this really was a teachable moment, perhaps in two unfortunate regards. One, heroism is rendered foolish. So far no one in the city has stepped forward to congratulate a disabled senior’s heroic (and apparently successful) efforts to divert the bullying of teenager onto his own person. His only reward was to have been knocked out by the attacker, and the crime initially not considered a crime, but his injuries due supposedly to his own clumsiness.  Second, the disabled victim is lucky he was not armed. Had he pulled out a legal, concealed weapon when the bully approached him to attack, and fired in self-defense, we would have another Trayvon Martin hate crime, and charges that a climate of racial intolerance had led to the death of another unarmed African-American. In comparison to all that, a head injury is apparently preferable.