When a vigil for Michael Brown turned into looting on Sunday night, the indignation among white conservatives was entirely predictable. As inexcusable as using someone’s death as a reason vandalize and steal is, the longstanding white obsession with black looting says a lot about how some people in America think about race.
Recall that on Saturday, Michael Brown — an unarmed black 18-year-old — was gunned down by police in Ferguson, Missouri. It was just the latest example of a black person dying unnecessarily at the hands of a law enforcement officer whose job is to protect and serve the public, which, last we checked, includes black people.
But if you scour conservative media, the real story is actually the looting and the hostility being directed at the police department there. For example, Fox Nation has run one story on it (via Breitbart): “Police Unleash Tear Gas to Clear St. Louis Streets Of Rioters, Looters.”
The lead on Drudge blared “UNREST IN HEARTLAND.”
It’s not that these riots are justified (they’re not) or that they aren’t news (they are), but conservatives seem to think that the looting — and not the killing of another unarmed black teen — is the true scandal. And if you don’t believe me, read their comments if you dare.
We saw this during Hurricane Katrina. After thousands of black people were victimized by the government’s disastrously inadequate preparations, the mainstream media began focusing obsessively on tales of black looting and disorder in New Orleans. Fox News’ Ed Asman claimed at the time that “the violence and the looting continues” and that New Orleans was “a city where looting, murder and rape reign.”
As it turned out, it was actually white people who were engaged in all kinds of lawlessness following Katrina, threatening black people with guns while police were straight up gunning down black men after being told to shoot looters.
By emphasizing the social disorder in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing instead of his actual death, conservatives accomplish two things: first, they avoid talking about the underlying problem that translates into unarmed black people being killed by whites; and second, conservatives can point to the violence and say, “See, look at all those uncivilized niggers!” without actually saying it.
Thus for many white people, their obsession with any civil unrest in the black community is a vindication of their position that racism doesn’t really exist anymore, and that any problems black people have are entirely of their own making.
And if you think we’ve seen the worst of it, just keep in mind that since the shooting, Bill O’Reilly has yet to be on the air.