On March 17 a white Army veteran named James Harris Jackson boarded a bus from Baltimore to New York City. Several days later, he allegedly stabbed a black man, 66-year-old Timothy Caughman, to death. Jackson and Caughman didn't know each other. But Jackson, by his own admission, hates black men and Caughman became another unfortunate example of someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On Monday, March 27, Jackson was charged with first and second degree murder as an act of terrorism. He was also charged with second degree murder as a hate crime, as well as several weapons violations. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance issued a statement following Jackson's indictment that reads in part,
"James Jackson prowled the streets of New York for three days in search of a black person to assassinate in order to launch a campaign of terrorism against our Manhattan community and the values we celebrate.
"Last week, with total presence of mind, he acted on his plan, randomly selecting a beloved New Yorker solely on the basis of his skin color, and stabbing him repeatedly and publicly on a Midtown street corner. James Jackson wanted to kill black men, planned to kill black men, and then did kill a black man."
The basic story is, sadly, unremarkable. There are murders every day in America and some of them involve racial animus. But this story is remarkable for something else that happened, and for something that didn't happen.
The remarkable thing that happened was the charge of terrorism against Jackson. Thanks to media reports on terrorism and the comments of people like Donald Trump, many don't picture a white person when they hear the word "terrorist." That perception seems to also be prevalent among prosecutors' offices, as a charge of terrorism against a white American suspect is rarer than rare.
Dylann Roof committed a crime with similar motives when he killed nine church-goers in Charleston, South Carolina. He faced over 30 charges, including hate crime charges, but no charges of terrorism. Robert Lewis Dear, who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was charged with 179 felonies for his crime. Again, those charges did not include terrorism.
It is understandable that prosecutors and law enforcement agencies do not want to overuse the term "terrorism." But, as the saying goes, if it looks like a duck...
Which brings us to the remarkable (but not surprising) thing that didn't happen surrounding this case: Neither Donald Trump nor Jeff Sessions has had anything to say about it.
At his Monday press briefing White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the murder by April Ryan. Ryan, who works for American Urban Radio Networks, asked Spicer if the White House had any comment on the crime. Spicer declined to answer, saying that he wasn't going to comment on any case that was before the DOJ, and adding that he didn't "know all the details."
Trump will tweet about just about anything and everything. But what appears to be off-limits to him are crimes committed by white supremacists. Trump supporters may argue that he doesn't want to weigh in on a current court case so as to not prejudice the proceedings. But those supporters would have forgotten that Trump has a history of doing exactly that.
Trump had no problem tweeting about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was hearing the fraud case against Trump University. He has been willing to attack federal judges over the blocks imposed on his two attempts at a Muslim travel ban. He also had no issue with taking to Twitter to accuse his predecessor of committing a felony by illegally wiretapping Trump Tower. But an avowed racist murders a black man and all of a sudden Trump's Twitter fingers are broken.
He didn't even have to comment on the specific case. All he needed to do was tweet something generic about race relations or getting along together, but he couldn't even do that much.
So why the silence? That's a good question. Trump has been accused of racism on a number of occasions, and for all we know he may sympathize with the beliefs of people like James Jackson.
But the answer may be as simple as this: Trump's candidacy was endorsed by a veritable "who's who" of white nationalists and other racists. Trump values loyalty, and he almost never criticizes anyone who he believes is loyal to him. His silence may be due his fear of losing that base of support, which he has never strenuously rejected.