Following President Obama’s comments on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, some African-American activists say the media-dominating story is distracting attention from much greater threats to African-Americans.
“Without a doubt,” Obama’s decision to highlight the February inter-racial shooting is a distraction that will likely will spur turnout for the 2012 election, T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami Inc, told The Daily Caller on Mar. 23.
But “the outrage should be about us killing each other, about black-on-black crime,” especially in Chicago, rather than a single wrongful killing in Florida, he said.
“Would you think to have 41 people shot [in Chicago] between Friday morning and Monday morning would be much more newsworthy and deserve much more outrage?” he asked.
From Mar. 16 to Mar. 19, 41 people, mostly African-American, were shot in Chicago, Obama’s adopted hometown. Ten were killed, but there was little reaction outside Chicago, say several African-American leaders and commentators.
One of the victims was only 6 years old. She was killed in a drive-by shooting conducted by two members of the “Latin Kings” gang.
On Friday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich castigated Obama’s emphasis on Martin’s race in his March 23 comments at the White House. Obama’s comments were “disgraceful. … Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it didn’t look like him?” Gingrich said.
“Speaker Gingrich is clearly in the last throes of his political career … [and is saying] irresponsible, reckless things,” Plouffe responded.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also criticized Obama for highlighting the racial aspect of the shooting.
“What the president of the United States should do is try to bring people together, not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America,” Santorum said Friday.
Plouffe dismissed the GOP leaders’ call for a color-blind response, saying on CNN that “those comments were really hard to stomach, really, and I guess trying to appeal to people’s worst instincts. … I don’t think there’s very many people in America that would share that reaction.”
Obama weighed in on the Trayvon Martin controversy Friday, Mar. 23, when he used a high-profile Rose Garden appearance to declare, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
“I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure how does something like this happen, and that means we examine the laws and context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident,” Obama announced.
His statement sparked a media firestorm that won Obama plaudits from a series of high-profile African-American political activists who have highlighted the controversy.
The activists include Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP. Activists for the New Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam have also entered the fray.
Obama’s Rose Garden comments also prompted the criticism from Gingrich and Santorum, which Plouffe used on Sunday to lambaste the candidates.
However, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s careful statement didn’t provide Plouffe an excuse for criticism.
“What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity,” said the Romney statement.
A weekend statement by the Republican National Committee also avoided the issue, and instead focused on areas where Obama’s public support is weakest — Obamacare, gas prices and the economy.
Also, the efforts by Obama, Plouffe, Sharpton and their allies to elevate Martin’s death are meeting criticism from other leaders in the African-American community, who say Obama and his deputies haven’t done enough to curb black-on-black crime.
Obama’s focus on the Tayvon Martin death at the hands of George Zimmerman is misplaced, said Fair.
“It reinforces the notion [among African-Americans] of the evilness of white people … that white people are killing black people,” said Fair. But “the outrage should be about us killing each other.”
In 2009, completed law-enforcement investigations showed that 352 African-Americans were killed by known whites — a category that includes Latinos — and 4,094 African-Americans were killed by African-Americans, according to FBI data.
On Mar. 25, Chicago-based Catholic priest Rev. Michael Pfleger — a well-known social activist who leads a majority black congregation — urged attendees at a Chicago protest to do something about urban crime around the country.
“If you really honor Trayvon Martin, what are you going to do differently tomorrow about violence? What child are you going to reach out to? What youth center? What school? What will you do differently to fight the violence?” he declared, according to a report from a local CBS station.
This broader perspective was also pushed by Joni Hudson-Reynolds, an African-American blogger, who wrote Mar. 19 that “the nation’s attention is on the Trayvon Martin case,” but “this past weekend 41 people were shot on the streets of Chicago [and] the youngest victim a 6 year old was killed in a drive by.”
Former Texas NAACP leader C.L. Bryant made the same argument. “Why isn’t somebody angry about that six year old girl who was killed on her steps last weekend in a cross fire when two gang members in Chicago start shooting at each other? Why is there no outrage about that?”
“The epidemic is truly black on black crime,” Bryant told TheDC. “The greatest danger to the lives of young black men are young black men.”
Phillip Jackson, a black community leader in Chicago, defended Obama’s intervention in the Martin case, but demanded he do more than focus on the Martin case.
“The president didn’t have a choice on this — this Trayvon Martin thing is huge across the country,” said Jackson, who formerly held top positions in city government, and now runs the Black Star Project, which advocates for improved education and a greater parental role in education. The shooting is part of a “much larger issue that the president has not addressed — what is happening to young black boys across the country,” said Jackson, who plans to support Obama in November.
“We don’t need soul-searching. … We need action from our government,” said Jackson, who wants federal support for fathers and families, for job creation and for training.
However, the Martin murder has prompted a great reaction among African-Americans because of their fear about white people, not fellow African-Americans, said Fair.
“When there’s more black-on-black crime, there’s no reaction… death is only important when it is done by a white person,” he said.
Although the shooter, George Zimmerman, is said by his family to be Hispanic, African-Americans “are responding to him as if he was white,” said Fair.