United States: Innocent Black man\'s murderers walk free and an anti-racist preacher is the problem?

On April 25, the three cops who murdered African American Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets in New York were acquitted of all charges.

The media, led by the New York Times, called on everyone to respect the verdict. The NYT even lectured, "Anger and disappointment are understandable now, but New York's leadership has changed, and community activists need to absorb that fact before they attempt to heat up reaction".

Democratic presidential aspirant Barack Obama had a similar message when he was asked for his reaction to the shocking verdict. "Well, look, obviously there was a tragedy in New York … The judge has made his ruling, and we're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down."

Politicians and pundits were wringing their hands out of fear that Black outrage over another case of the NYPD getting away with murder might tumble into angry protests and put race at the centre of the presidential elections.

Hysterical hypocrisy

But days later, the corporate media did just that in their hysterical coverage of several public appearances by Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

While the acquittal of Bell's murderers was greeted with pleas for calm and reflection, Wright got "front-paged" coast to coast. Even Obama called a press conference to attack Wright's "rant" as "appalling and offensive".

The NYT denounced Wright as "racist" and "paranoid". He was accused in the media of being a "narcissist" and of "soaking up his 15 minutes of fame".

What did Wright say to cause such a crazed reaction?

After suffering more than a month of media denunciations and racist abuse, Wright came out swinging. He framed the attacks against him as an attack on the Black church and Black religiosity, pointing to a long list of Black religious figures targeted for media and state vitriol — among them Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Moreover, Wright continued to challenge the hypocrisy of the US government. He raised US support for the apartheid regime in South Africa and for the murderous right-wing contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

He complained about the US government spending billions on the war in Iraq, while people are going hungry in the US. He decried the US sending 4000 "boys and girls to die for a lie". And he denounced unfair sentencing in drug cases that has resulted in 1 million African Americans being imprisoned.

Media pundits picked out two portions of the question-and-answer segment of his appearance at the National Press Club as the basis for the paranoid racist label.

First, Wright refused to attack Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, saying, "Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn't make me this colour."

Second, while the NYT claimed Wright accused the US government of creating AIDS, what he actually said was more damning: "Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything. In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non-question, because all we had to do was check the sales records.

"We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people. So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable."

Finally, Wright refused to back away from statements that Israeli treatment of Palestinians is apartheid.

Truth too much to bare

The media are incapable of engaging and debating Wright's ideas. Instead, like petulant brats, they resort to name-calling.

Why are the media and liberal Obama supporters in a Jeremiah-hysteria right now?

Firstly, Obama and his supporters have so far carefully avoided making race a central theme of the presidential campaign. They fear that Wright's public appearances will engulf the campaign.

Conversely, the media have been itching to make race the central election theme, so they sensationalise coverage of Wright to create controversy.

Part of this is for cynical reasons. The media believe their own constructed and static caricatures of working-class white voters as irredeemably racist and unwilling to vote for a Black man — even though Obama has gotten literally millions of votes from white workers and cut into Clintons massive leads among white voters in both Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The media pre-judged that US whites would be offended by Wright, and then shaped the story to make sure they were offended — couching Wright as a crazy Black racist.

The cravenly racist US media have always had a double standard for people of colour who denounce racism and injustice.

If the latest flap about Wright costs Obama the nomination, it won't be Wright's fault. Obama can blame the media that are driven, if not obsessed, with making Wright the centerpiece of the campaign.

The media don't want to talk about real issues like police brutality or health care when they can talk about lapel pins, Farrakhan, and the six degrees of separation between Obama and yesteryear radicals.

Obama can also blame Hillary Clinton, whose campaign worked for months to give life to the Wright angle.

Why is Obama the only candidate who has to explain his association with a pastor? No one asks Hillary Clinton or any of the former presidents about their associations with the anti-Semite minister Billy Graham.

On one of former president Richard Nixon's White House tapes, Graham can be heard blaming Jews for "pornography" and accusing them of having a "stranglehold" on the media. Yet Hillary brags about leaning on Graham to cope with her husband's Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Commentators, not racists

And why are neither Hillary nor John McCain asked for a reaction to the verdict in the murder of Sean Bell? Why is it only the Black candidate that is questioned about the police shooting of a Black man?

John McCain got off lightly after he solicited and received the endorsement of nut-job extraordinaire Reverend John Hagee, who believes that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution for New Orleans having a gays rights parade.

Instead of facing outrage, right-wing racist Pat Buchanan is regularly invited to outfits like CNN and MSNBC as an expert on domestic politics.

What did Buchanan have to say after Obama's speech on race in March?: "First, America has been the best country on earth for Black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity Blacks have ever known. Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American."

"Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up Blacks than white Americans — Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks with affirmative action …"

Buchanan's column did not make the front pages. When you're white and spew hate, they call you a media commentator.

The corporate media has never gotten over the image of angry African Americans rebelling in the 1960s. The rebellions of the late '60s have always been cast as the foil to the heroic civil rights movement of the early '60s, where African Americans conducted nonviolent civil disobedience for the right to vote.

While the civil rights movement was never that simplistic, in the ruling class's campaign to discredit the militancy of Black Power, civil rights is propped up as the "respectable struggle", while militant critiques of capitalism and calls for "Black Power" are dismissed as irrational.

This is why the media implore us to keep quiet after the verdict in the Sean Bell case, but Wright's speeches constitute an "orange alert" in American politics. Wright's crime is that he is too angry, too Black, too '60s.

This explains why Wright has gotten rowdy applause everywhere he goes from African Americans who are sick of the double standards and hypocrisy from the media and cynical politicians.

[Abridged from May 2 US Socialist Worker, http://socialistworker.org.]

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