When is a high profile murder a ‘morality play’ and when is it not?

Source: Hot Air

I keep coming back to this NY Times opinion piece because it strikes me as spectacularly tone deaf. The author, Margaret Renkl, must live so far inside the progressive bubble that it never occurred to her how this would sound to someone on the other side of the aisle.

As you’ve probably heard there was a really awful murder case in Memphis this month. No, not that awful murder case, a different one. On Sep. 2 a woman jogger named Eliza Fletcher went out or a run early in the morning. She never came home. Her body was found three days later in the grass behind a vacant home. Police arrested Cleotha Abston for the crime and it seems pretty clear he’ll be found guilty thanks to a DNA match and other evidence.

Fletcher’s death became a real moment for the city of Memphis. Thousands of people showed up in a Memphis Park before dawn last week to symbolically finish the run Fletcher had started.

But the point of the NY Times piece isn’t to celebrate any of that resilience, it’s to attack conservatives for noting that the victim was white and the (alleged) killer was black.

Here are some more facts about Mr. Abston: His criminal record began in 1995, when he was 11 years old, and grew every year for the next five years. At 14, he was charged with rape. At 16, he kidnapped a Memphis attorney, who managed to escape. For that crime, Mr. Abston served roughly 20 years of a 24-year sentence. Less than a week after Ms. Fletcher’s killing, Mr. Abston was charged with an unrelated kidnapping and rape that took place in 2021.

Mr. Abston is also Black.

I’m noting these details — more details than you really need to know — because so many far-right conservatives believe that the mainstream media won’t report on violent crimes against white people by Black people. “Say her name,” they tweet, as though there could possibly be an analogy between Ms. Fletcher’s death, allegedly at the hands of a man whom the Shelby County district attorney has characterized as a lone killer, and Breonna Taylor’s killing at the hands of the Louisville Metro Police Department…

Any discussion of such subjects is bound to become heated, and that’s as it should be. Open public discourse is a privilege of living in a democracy. But while this kind of conversation is appropriate in a discussion of public policy, it is not at all appropriate in the discussion of an innocent person who lost her life to a seemingly random act of violence. Tragedies will always garner public interest. That’s just human nature. But tragedies should never be reduced to tweets and talking points or turned into a narrative to justify a political agenda.

There’s no evidence that this case had a racial element but I find Renkl’s reference to Breonna Taylor’s death pretty strange for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s true that several police officers involved in the planning and (allegedly) the cover up of the raid on Taylor’s apartment had charges brought against them. But of the officers who were there that night, only one was charged with reckless behavior because he fired his weapon in a way that could have harmed other nearby residents. In other words, no one is being charged with intent to kill Breonna Taylor because there’s no evidence of that. The same can’t be said for Cleotha Abston.

The second reason this bothers me is that Renkl mentions the “Say her name” trope but doesn’t mention or seem to notice that this line was adopted from BLM who use it routinely to do exactly what she claims no one should ever do, i.e. turn tragedies into tweets, talking points and a political agenda. Indeed, she’s defending that particular use of a tragic death for political grandstanding by bringing up Breonna Taylor even as she says no one should be doing this.

I could offer a whole list of cases popularized by BLM where the facts later turned out to be different than the political coverage suggested. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is an obvious example that comes to mind. And this if far from the only type of case where the media has run with politicized coverage of tragic situations in order to fit a narrative. A commenter at the NY Times, who partially agreed with Renkl, made this point quite well.

Renkl’s point about this black-on-white murder not being a morality play is true.

Indeed, Fox is turning it into a morality play, putting Abston’s picture on the front page, while Trump’s document scandal dominated elsewhere. Race baiting as diversion.

Yet this very article it ignores how the media often turn other X-on-Y crimes into a morality play.

When there was a spate of anti-Asian attacks, the media would highlight those that had white (especially Trump-inspired) perps, but would remain silent about the nature of the majority (19 of 22 in NYC) anti-Asian assaults that had non-white attackers.

When the NYT published an article by an Asian doctor who described racial incidents, she mentioned the race of long-ago white slur-slingers, but not a word about the race of those who hurled vitriol against her in NYC. Funny, that.

Or the April 12, 2020 NYT piece by Cathy Park Hong recounted a white person’s relatively benign joke about whether pangolin is eaten like an artichoke, but neglected to discuss the race of most attackers in the incidents she described – the word ‘white’ appears 18 times, and ‘black’ appears once, as a historical victim along with Asians. It’s all true, but somehow it REVERSES the actual nature of anti-Asian violence in the covid era.

So … back to morality plays … both left and right media play this game, including the NYT.

And there are many more examples you could give. There was a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in New York and New Jersey back in 2018 and 2019, many of the assailants were black. In 2018, the Times gently pointed out that these crimes probably weren’t getting enough serious attention because they just didn’t have the right villains, meaning they literally didn’t involve people on the right.

Within the course of a few days this month, a swastika showed up on an Upper West Side corner and two ultra-Orthodox men were attacked on the street in Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn in separate incidents. In one of them, according to the police and prosecutors, a Muslim livery driver jumped out of a car and started beating up his victim, seemingly at random, yelling “Allah.”…

If anti-Semitism bypasses consideration as a serious problem in New York, it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group, Mark Molinari, commanding officer of the police department’s Hate Crimes Task Force, told me.

“I almost wish it was sometimes more clear cut,’’ he said. “It’s every identity targeting every identity.”

This is almost certainly why some people on the right are trying to make a point of insisting the media cover the Eliza Fletcher murder with the same interest they would devote to it if a black woman had been killed by a police officer. Because the truth is that the media and the left turn tragedies into big national stories all the time, so long as it suits their agenda. If Renkl really has a problem with this sort of thing, she should direct her outrage toward the left-wing activists and journalists who do it most often.