Debbie Comes Right Out and Says It


Wheaton reader Morey Rothberg noted that the murder of a white man, Alan Senitt, was on Page 1 and the murder of Chris Crowder, who was black, was on the front of the Metro section.


It was an easy call to put Senitt’s killing on Page 1. The victim’s throat was cut — very brutal for a street robbery. There was an attempt to rape his female companion. And there were quick arrests and charges against two men, a woman and a male juvenile. The three adults, all black, were pictured in the next day’s paper. And, yes, it was in affluent Georgetown. A police commander in that district was temporarily reassigned after making this public comment: “This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown.”

Besides, white people are interesting, even to non-whites. Everybody’s interested in us, everybody thinks we’re the shit.

And … look, this is not an unusual scenario. The Post did nothing that isn’t done every day in papers in every city across the country. So I feel bad picking on the Post, except for that it’s not usually said so baldly.

Let me just make this point. The idea that a white guy’s murder was more easily solved and therefore more deserving of extensive coverage is repulsive and smacks of excuse-making after the fact. If that were some kind of universal truth, that clear-cut crimes were more interesting, we wouldn’t have been assaulted with details of the Jon Benet Ramsey case for years, because Lord knows nobody knew shit about shit in that case but it was still presumed we were all incredibly interested and moved and affected by it.

I also find it vaguely repulsive that the attempted rape makes a story more compelling. There again, these are things that aren’t usually said out loud: Oh, if only the other man had had a woman with him who’d been raped! That would have been cool! If the guiding principle of newsrooms nowadays is “whatever would scare the crap out of the housewives,” well, okay, but proclaim that your news strategy is to scare the crap out of the womenfolk, instead of using this kind of sexist code language where women are angels and people should be killed just for looking at them funny.

Then there’s the “unusual” factor. Which I think enrages me more than any other part of this very self-serving, self-important, comfortably-off column. The presumption that some killings are shocking because things like that don’t happen to nice people. Rich people. White people. It can’t happen to me, I’ve taken every precaution to live away from “those” people, to make sure I don’t buy a house in “that” community. I’ve done things right so nobody’s gonna hurt me. And then the same person who says those things is on TV saying, “this is such a nice community.” In other words, stuff like that happens over there, to others, not to me. I’m special. I’m protected. I’m okay. And just FUCK everybody else when this stuff happens to them. I’m sure they must have done something to deserve it, all living in the projects like they were.

The institutional racism of it makes me ill, and not for nothing, but it just creates one more form of victim-blaming, in that you’re presumed to be able to protect yourself from violence, insulate yourself, and so if something bad happens to you, well, it’s your fault, you walked alone at night, you lived in the city, you sent your kids to “that” school, you worked at that job. And so we speed through our communities like they’re war zones, certain places behind enemy lines. And we don’t think too much about what goes on there, because it’s not presumed to be in our interests.

This kind of coverage, and the kind of justification Debbie’s doing here, does nothing but isolate us from one another, and make us feel justified in our isolation. It makes it easy for us to dismiss the murder of a man in a wheelchair, because after all, that’s just what happens to people like him who have the temerity to live and breathe.

And not for nothing, but the whole “we got more details about this story than about the other one” excuse as well? To really make that true, Debbie would have to have asked about the actual number of reporters devoted to each story, the amount of time, the work put in, the familiarity those reporters had with the neighborhoods in which the crimes occurred. If she did ask, she didn’t reveal the results of such digging in her column, so we have no way to judge.

And this, cats and kittens, is why I’m no longer allowed to watch the local TV news at home, because every time somebody gets shot in a touristy spot, the news twinks interview 10 pinheads who all say, “but this was a nice community,” and the utter bewilderment in their voices usually makes me want to put a fist through the television.

We are all of us safe, or none of us. If it’s none of us, if we are not demanding that the streets be made safe for all of us, then we can’t say it couldn’t happen to us. Because it does, every single day the sun comes up. That may not be “unusual” enough for Debbie to justify its presence on page one, but it should be enough to make us think twice the next time we so presumptuously and loudly lock our car doors while we’re driving through the hood.