Need To Score Political Points? Try Exploiting Tragedies

Scott Greer Contributor
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Is it “vile” for a presidential candidate to highlight a murder in a political speech?

That’s what Kevin Sutherland’s family and the congressman he worked for think of Chris Christie after the White House hopeful mentioned the young man’s slaying in a Thursday speech on criminal justice reform. (RELATED: Chris Christie Returns To One Of America’s Most Violent Cities To Talk Crime)

Sutherland was brutally stabbed to death while riding a DC metro train on July 4 by an 18-year-old who had been arrested for misdemeanor assault only a few days earlier. Christie brought up Sutherland’s death to show how it could’ve been prevented if his murderer had been charged with a felony for his previous offense and kept in jail.

Christie’s statement sent the family and Democrat Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes into a rage spiral. “To use Kevin’s death to score political points is vile,” Himes declared on Friday. The Sutherland family stated that Christie’s comments “disrespected” the memory of their son.

The family also said that Christie knew nothing about Sutherland because the New Jersey governor “would have found someone who would never exploit someone else’s tragedy to further his own ambitions.”

Many people can empathize with a grief-stricken family not wanting a politician to use the death of a loved one to argue for a policy position. But was Christie exploiting the tragedy for political gain?

Only if you think it is uncouth to mention a crime in relation to a policy proposal you believe will prevent similar tragedies in the future. The family might as well criticize The Washington Post for giving the killing lots of coverage in order to draw in readers. Isn’t that exploitation, too?

There’s a parallel to be found with the criticism lobbed at those who bring up persons slain by illegal immigrants — such as Kate Steinle — to highlight problems with America’s border. With those situations, there’s similar denunciations of exploitation, even though the solutions argued by these public figures would conceivably save the lives of other innocent people.

In many ways, these slayings are treated more like car accidents than violent murders.

With Sutherland, besides the implied notion that different laws wouldn’t have saved him, there’s also the argument that it was right for no one on the train to intervene in the fatal fight that ultimately cost him his life. Just like how you can’t do much if you get run over by a tractor trailer while cruising in its blind spot, there was nothing that could be done for Mr. Sutherland.

With the case of Steinle: We’re told it was tragic, but that we shouldn’t be so callous to exploit her death to call for an end to sanctuary cities.

This is very different from how the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray were treated by various public figures and media outlets. In these cases, it seemed perfectly fine to score political points and rage at how these young men were murdered by a white supremacist society.

That hyperbolic response occurs even though Martin’s and Brown’s untimely passings were ruled justifiable homicides and there’s substantial evidence for arguing that Gray’s death was the result of a legitimate accident.

But those facts are seemingly overlooked by leaders and activists who make blanket assertions about police officers, laws and, in fact, every facet of society having racial bias. The whole Black Lives Matter movement is motivated by the desire to exploit every single death of an African-American at the hands of law enforcement — regardless of the circumstances or facts on the ground — for political gain.

Yet, no one — particularly the media — calls these activists “vile” for doing so, even though their actions and remarks go way beyond Christie’s mild remarks on Sutherland’s murder.

It’s easy to see the double standard, but it’s even worse than that. For one, these events treated as tragic accidents could have been prevented by certain measures.

Kevin Sutherland would be alive today if D.C. treated assaults more seriously under the law. Kate Steinle would be alive today if San Francisco didn’t harbor violent criminals under its status as a sanctuary city.

Highlighting their cases can serve as good examples for why America needs to take action on specific issues with concrete solutions.

On the other hand — in the cases of Martin, Brown and Gray — the anger surrounding their deaths often has no real concrete solution besides dismantling white supremacy. That especially makes little sense in Gray’s case considering Baltimore — the city he died in — has a black mayor, a black state’s attorney, a black police commissioner, a predominately black city council and a 40 percent black police force.

Additionally, three of the officers who are charged in connection with his death are black — including the driver of the police van who faces the most serious count of second-degree murder. (RELATED: Baltimore Police Release Mugshots Of Six Cops Charged In Freddie Gray Death)

There appears to be little white supremacy involved in this case. Yet white supremacy still gets blamed for contributing to Gray’s death.

Even when cooler heads in this movement suggest law-enforcement reform as a solution to the alleged problem of police brutality, that comes with its own set of issues. How would Michael Brown still be alive under any police reform after he charged at a cop he was fighting with? Do we even want the type of reform that would force an officer to lower his weapon and allow a charging assailant to attack him?

There are some cases, such as with Walter Scott in South Carolina, that could have been prevented by reforming some police tactics. However, that would likely not dampen a movement that seems to become enraged at any African-American death at the hands of the police, regardless of the facts.

And the media will still cover future cases as possible wrongful deaths, regardless of the facts.

It’s perfectly reasonable for our society to question politicians and other public figures who use tragedies for possible personal gain. But if these mentions come in the context of serious policy debates, then they should be found suitable for use.

The real issue, though, is how our society can allow sanctimonious reactions to the statements of Republicans when the left has spent the last few years shamelessly exploiting the deaths of young black men to stoke racial tensions and divide American society.

That’s truly vile.

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