The Washington Post ran a story Tuesday with this odd headline: “He said he punched a woman for calling him the n-word. A jury called it murder.”
Weird how a jury would determine killing someone over an alleged insult constitutes a murder.
The Post’s story covers the case of Robert Coleman, a 27-year-old black man found guilty of second-degree murder in Alexandria, VA. Coleman was convicted this week of delivering a fatal punch to a 39-year-old Hispanic woman.
The defendant claimed he punched the woman because she called him the n-word and that he assumed she was a man due to her heavy build and short hair. Coleman’s lawyers also tried to blame the victim’s extremely inebriated state for her own death.
Prosecutors disputed Coleman’s justification, noting the victim could barely speak English and would have been unlikely to say such a racial slur. Regardless, the prosecutors argued that insults do not justify murder. The jury agreed.
But apparently, WaPo thought the murderer’s explanation warranted sympathetic coverage, even though he beat a Hispanic womanto death . While most readers would agree with the prosecutors and jury that racial slurs don’t excuse murder, it’s a defense that wins over journalists and occasionally even over authorities. (RELATED: WaPo Writer Appears To Question Murder Conviction Over Racial Slur)
Last year, a black man in Florida was able to walk free after authorities dropped charges against him for strangling a white man to death over a racial slur. The man, Joni Donley, got into argument with his math tutor, David Grant, during a session and it led to a fight. Donley ended up killing Grant with his bare hands.
“The state has no competent evidence to rebut the argument that when Donley is called a (derogatory word), he was suddenly provoked to turn and strike Mr. Grant. The witnesses all stated that Donley was walking away, and suddenly the combat ensues, with Grant attempting to place Donley in a bear hug. By all accounts, no weapon was used, and the fact that Donley held Grant for approximately 15 seconds does not rise to the level of a cruel and unusual manner,” Assistant State Attorney Vegina Hawkins said of why charges were dropped.
In 2015, an Ohio judge gave a black man convicted of home invasion no jail time after hearing that one of his victims held “prejudiced” views. That victim happened to be three years old, and her parents said the traumatizing robbery had made her scared of black men.
The African-American judge said he was “deeply offended” by that statement when he sentenced the offender to probation.
Multiple football players have tried to excuse their assaults by blaming their attacks on hearing a racial slur. Former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson defended cold-clocking a woman at a bar in 2015 by saying his victim called him the n-word.
Current NFL player Joe Mixon said he was motivated to sucker punch a female in 2014 because her “gay” friend called him a racial slur. Two Texas high school players who pulverized a referee in 2015 said they did so because they thought the official was a racist. (RELATED: Do Racial Slurs Justify Murder?)
The racial slur argument gives the assailant a shot at receiving positive press. It worked to a certain degree for Robert Coleman, as well as for the two Texas high schoolers.
The worst example of the media excusing the violence because of perceived racism is that of Omar Thornton. In 2010, Thornton shot up the beer distillery that laid him off, killing eight people. The African-American man killed himself at the end of the massacre, but not before telling police he wanted to take revenge against this “racist company.”
Helluva way to introduce readers to a shooting by letting the killer say he only murdered “racists.” It instantly makes the case the shooter had a legitimate grievance and that his victims were bad people. Thornton was the real victim if you fully believed the headline.
As it turns out, Thornton was not angry at his company for alleged racial abuse — it was because he was fired for stealing beer. But the truth came out after the media had already spread the killer’s justification far and wide.
More worrying than the media coverage is the possibility that cases such as those of Robert Coleman and Joni Donley could be decided by the alleged prejudices of their victims.
Mass shooters will never get off with that defense, but a man who beat to death an associate can. If more murderers are able to get off with the “victim was a racist” defense, we could see a troubling precedent set. One where just the allegation of prejudice justifies someone’s death.
It would be a nightmare if the courts established a legal justification for it.
Several murders are committed over mean words and insults, and many victims aren’t exactly moral exemplars. But those reasons don’t vindicate murder.