Imagine what your assumptions would be about this writer’s point if he had penned these words back in 2012 instead of Tuesday.
But this is America in 2019, and it’s full of rage and hate. And parents of young men know that hostile people would instead want to destroy your child’s life…They would wish violence on him and you…And then, even when their rage is proven to be unfounded, they would spend days hunting through your background…to try to find some reason to hate you anyway…
And when you are found to be wrong, when snap judgments go awry, the proper response is to apologize…We’re human. We make mistakes. The proper response is not to double down in digging for dirt, hoping and praying that you’ll find some reason to justify your initial rage. When activists and partisans do that, they send a clear message to their opponents: They will destroy you if they can.
The author of those words is David French, writing for the National Review. He is, of course, empathizing with the parents of the young men from Covington Catholic school. Here’s the message we’re starting to hear from conservatives about the incident:
Between the Kavanaugh debacle and now what happened with these MAGA boys, there’s a lot of nervous boy moms and dads out there. If they can and will seek to destroy these guys, they’ll come after yours.
— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) January 21, 2019
The reason I suggested that we imagine French writing those words back in 2012 is because that was the year Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman and, after President Obama identified with his parents, conservative media began a smear campaign against the black boy who happened to be the victim in that case. At the very publication French writes for, an author joined in sharing the dirt:
[Martin] was caught with a bag that contained traces of marijuana, the Miami Herald reports.
This does lend credence to one small aspect of Zimmerman’s story — that Martin caught his attention because the 17-year-old looked like he was “on drugs.” No drugs were found on Martin’s person, but so far as I can tell, the autopsy report has not been made public.
Perhaps French can point me to where that author or his publication apologized for that one.
But it wasn’t just Trayvon Martin. We saw the same kind of smear campaigns against Michael Brown and the parents of Tamir Rice. Those are a few of the cases that got national attention, but the effort to paint young black men (and their families) as criminals is the reason we have a cradle-to-prison pipeline in this country.
I’ll give French credit for at least recognizing this reality.
Yes, I know the “whatabouts.” I know the habit of some people on the right to immediately hunt through the pasts of even dead black men and boys to find some evidence they were a bad person, even if those facts aren’t relevant to the case at hand. I’ve seen the supposedly incriminating pictures of young black men passed around social media as if they’re evidence when they’re not. I know about cases like the Central Park Five.
I also know that practice is horrible. I know that it’s evil. And I understand why black parents worry that their kid could be next – and live in fear of something far more deadly than social media shame campaigns or lost jobs.
Yes, the kind of hate directed at young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and at Tamir Rice’s family is both what led to their deaths and was used in an attempt to justify their murders. Meanwhile, Nicholas Sandmann is not only alive, he is privileged to have a high-price public relations firm defend him along with media interviews to clear his name.
Personally, I agree with Josh Marshall’s take about what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day.
The upshot is that when you see all the videos, not just the one that initially spread like wildfire, you get a lot more context to what led up to that video moment. But it doesn’t greatly change the substance of what you see on the video, which is a middle aged Native American activist/elder beating a ceremonial drum in the face of what appears to be a bemused and cocky teenager while his classmates surrounding them, mostly wearing MAGA caps, jeer and taunt the man with chopping motions. To me, Sandman’s grin looks self-satisfied and arrogant. You can see that part as well as I can. So make your own judgments.
But if the parents of white boys are concerned that the response to incidents like this demonstrate some sort of threat to their sons, I suggest they use that concern to empathize with the parents of black boys who experience that kind of thing on almost a daily basis. As French wrote, when people search for excuses to justify their hate, they are sending a clear message: “They will destroy you if they can.”