“I cannot remember a time when I was not getting into fights” – George Foreman
I’ve always appreciated James Taranto’s (Wall Street Journal Columnist) explanation of how the tide turned in the civil rights movement, which I will paraphrase here. We live in a democracy, and in a democracy, for better or worse, things don’t really gain traction until a majority supports them. This goes for both good and bad ideas, good and bad policy choices. In the case of the civil rights movement, triumph came not so much when black America united and stared down oppressive white America, but rather when black America shamed enough of white America into action, and was able to pull together a majority. (Blacks have never constituted anything close to a majority or plurality in this country. But ultimately people can be reasoned with, can be shown the truth about a situation, and can be convinced to join in a movement even if it is not directly related to their own way of life.)
The same phenomenon can cut the wrong way too. Hitler convinced a majority to follow him down the path of genocide. (Whether they would have voted for those policies, or went along after he consolidated power is obviously up for debate – but enough people justified the exclusion and elimination of Jews to make it a reality.)
It’s not just matters of public policy where majority sentiment matters, of course – those are just the most obvious examples.
I bring this up because the “knockout game” is still swirling in the headlines and the blogosphere, and it still represents a small but meaningful danger of escalation. Will Wright just penned a piece titled “How the ‘Knockout Game’ Hysteria Hurts Black America.” I agree with the title, despite the dismissive use of “hysteria” – but the article comes up wanting. Wright offers strikingly little defense for his supposition, that the public outcry (hysteria?) over the horrific “knockout game” is bad for black America. We find only a snippet at the beginning about how white people will lock their car doors when approached by a group of young black males, or perhaps even presume that any such “pack” is up to no good. But nothing more.
I suspect the situation is a touch worse than Wright lets on. First, the “hysteria” is legitimate. There is enough evidence out there to demonstrate that this is a thing – that young black men have taken up a pass-time of randomly assaulting strangers to see if they can score a one-punch knockout. It’s not a made-up problem. Perhaps it is not as far-reaching as the current reporting (or perhaps it’s worse), but it’s not fake.
Second, and more importantly, the danger to black America is more than just locking doors and presumption of guilt. That sort of thing already happens. The danger is that a majority, enough people to make a difference, come to the conclusion that young black males are beyond hope, that there is no reasoning, that violence must be met with violence.
My friend Jefe Ocho (who is black) mentioned this in our conversations around the time of the George Zimmerman trial. He discussed overhearing a conversation between two white men, one of which was from the Sanford, FL area, in which they indicated a need to “meet their violence with violence” – that is, counter violence from young black males with violence of our own. That would be a bad thing in general, for all involved, but in a country where whites outnumber blacks 6-to-1 it would definitely not be a good development for blacks.
Of course I don’t think there is even the potential for anything like a “race war” in America. But I do think there is a serious potential for vigilantism. And that can be quite dangerous. If people feel that the structures of law-and-order are insufficient to deal with an escalating and senseless violence, they have been know to take matters into their own hands, regardless of whether said escalation of violence is real or just reported more.