White man had no rea­son to be scared

Colum­nist Leonard Pitts com­ments on an as­sault against a black autis­tic teenager in west­ern New York.

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

It hap­pened be­cause a white man was scared.

Chase Cole­man was on a park road, prob­a­bly lost and con­fused, hav­ing strag­gled far be­hind the pack — he’s a cross-coun­try run­ner from Syra­cuse — when the white man got out of his car and shoved him. A wit­ness said Chase flew back 10 feet and landed on his back­side.

Be­cause that white man was scared.

He had no rea­son to be. As de­scribed by wit­nesses in the Wash­ing­ton Post and on Syra­cuse.com, Chase is a gan­gly black kid, 15 years of age, who weighs about 130 pounds. The white man is said to be very tall and to weigh twice that.

But that white man was scared.

Fifty-seven-year-old Martin MacDon­ald told po­lice he feared that Chase — on foot, un­armed, wear­ing a run­ner’s uni­form with a num­ber pinned to his chest — might mug MacDon­ald’s wife, who was in the car next to him. MacDon­ald was also in­censed the boy did not re­spond to his com­mands to get out of the road.

But Chase has autism and is nearly non­ver­bal. He doesn’t re­spond to much of any­thing.

Ex­cept run­ning. He’s not very good at it, of­ten fin­ishes last. But his mom says be­ing on his high school track team is one of the few ways he has ever been able to par­tic­i­pate with others, to con­nect to the world be­yond his un­know­able thoughts. He loves run­ning.

Or did. Chase turned in his uni­form af­ter the Oct. 14 in­ci­dent.

His mother sought a war­rant to ar­rest her son’s at­tacker on a charge of ha­rass­ment, which car­ries a max­i­mum 15-day sen­tence. In an act of breath­tak­ing moral ob­tuse­ness, a judge in Rochester, where this hap­pened, turned her down. In a vic­tory for sys­temic big­otry, the judge is African Amer­i­can. On Mon­day, po­lice said their in­ves­ti­ga­tion was on­go­ing.

Which is all well and good. But try to pic­ture some burly black man as­sault­ing an autis­tic white boy. Try to con­ceive of au­thor­i­ties still hem­ming and haw­ing about it al­most three weeks later. You can’t. Not even Stephen King has that much imag­i­na­tion.

How many times have black peo­ple bled be­cause white men were scared? Of ret­ri­bu­tion or up­ris­ing. Of rob­bery or rape. Of so­cial equal­ity and the loss of place and pre­rog­a­tive. Of black­ness it­self.

Tamir Rice was shot and killed within two sec­onds of po­lice ar­riv­ing be­cause a white man was scared.

Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed be­cause a white man was scared.

Le­var Jones was shot while com­ply­ing with a state trooper’s com­mand be­cause the trooper, a white man, was scared.

White men’s fear has long been the story of black peo­ple’s lives and deaths. It is a story told in spec­ta­cle lynch­ings and burn­ing school­houses, in poll taxes and re­stric­tive covenants.

Some­one will say vi­o­lent crime sta­tis­tics jus­tify a white man’s fear. They don’t. To the con­trary, they warn that if you are fated to be vic­tim­ized, the at­tacker will prob­a­bly look a lot like you.

Some­one else will say that not all white men are scared and that some ac­tively fight against fear. This, of course, is true.

But what does that mat­ter to Chase? How do you ex­plain any of this to an in­drawn boy who had been used to adults be­ing kind to him? How do you tell him that he ter­ri­fies some peo­ple just by stand­ing in a road, lost? How do you make him un­der­stand what can hap­pen when white men are scared?

That a man as­saulted him, then jus­tice be­trayed him, sug­gests it could have been much worse. Then ask your­self:

Who should be fright­ened of whom?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.