On murder, angst and race
Every so often a bit of local journalism forces me to ruminate on the moral and cultural underpinnings at work in the city; actually, Michael Corbin does this with astonishing regularity. City Paper editor Evan Serpick did the same today. Serpick writes,
Week in, week out, people are killed—seven people were murdered in Baltimore City in the week before [Joseph “Alex” Ulrich Jr.] was killed. The stories are given little coverage in the local media—did you hear anything about those seven people killed last week? If I wasn’t editing Murder Ink, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have. But when a white person is killed or is the victim of a serious crime, as with the hapless tourist whose beating and robbery were captured on downtown security cameras earlier this year, it is front-page news, and the source of angst: Is our city safe? It’s hard not to translate the subtext of that angst to, Is our city safe for white people? Because if the general population was concerned about whether or not the city was safe for black people, there would be a whole lot more vigils and angst.
Serpick is “someone who has been reading and editing the details of every murder that’s taken place in Baltimore in the last two months” and is certain innocent people are often victims of violence–in a city where 125 of 128 murder victims are black.
I’m reminded of the murder of Stephen Pitcairn, a white Johns Hopkins University researcher and aspiring physician, who was killed in the summer of 2010, during a hotly contested state’s attorney race. The “angst” Serpick writes about likely propelled Gregg Berstein to victory that fall: the murder of a young black “innocent” male in an urban center is somehow less discomforting to the general population–perhaps it’s even expected–than that of a young white medical researcher. Skin color and class determine the prevalence of violence or safety: A murder in Sandtown-Winchester is somewhat expected while a murder in Canton shakes our foundation.
There’s much cognitive and cultural distancing at work beyond the tragedies of murder and violence: mass incarceration, community disinvestment, health disparity, to name but a few. It’s easy to dismiss what you do not see.