Sunday, June 14, 2009

Picking and Choosing Criminal Types

Much has been written about James van Brunn, the eighty-eight year old white supremacist who allegedly entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum last week and fatally shot Stephen Tyrone Jones, an African American security guard. This past Friday on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” host Michel Martin interviewed Randy Blazak, PhD, Associate Professor of sociology from Portland State University.

Dr. Blazak made some important comments regarding violence in American society, both the gendered nature of gun violence, and the way ethnic stereotyping plays out in mainstream media descriptions of crime and violence. First, Dr. Blazak briefly noted that those who engage in these mass shootings are always men. Additionally, I would note that in school shootings, the perpetrators have been boys. Point being, with very few exceptions, mass shooters are consistently male.

Secondly, when talking about white supremacist ideology, Dr. Blazak made the following insightful comments, highlighting that although racist white supremacy is not always blatantly visible, it still exists covertly and often times supports the more glaring extremist actions in private:

It wasn’t that long ago that white supremacy was the law of the land, and there are still people who would never dawn a Klan robe or put on a swastika arm band, who are sympathetic to many of the ideas that these groups hold. So I think it’s problematic to call these folks a few fringe crazies because there are many people who secretly who share some of the same beliefs about Jews or about immigration or about minorities.

From there, Dr. Blazak makes the very important point that in our national discourse on race, religion, and extremist behaviors, the Muslim religion is constantly spotlighted. Christianity, however, never enters discussion, even when it is tied quite closely as an ideological motivator for extreme violence.

…I was watching the coverage on Wednesday from Lou Dobbs on CNN, who was talking about acts by Muslims and plots by Muslims, and then he talked about the murder of George Tiller and failed to mention the religion of the man who shot George Tiller, which was Christian. And I thought that is another example of the normalization of the type of bigotry that ends up at the extreme with people who are willing to do violence to defend their beliefs.

This was an excellent point that merited further discussion. When the mainstream media picks and chooses which races and/or religions to target and associate with extreme violence, those that are exonerated from these associations are further extended their social privilege in society at large.

Thus, instead of analyzing how religious fundamentalism can lead to violence across the board, we only look to those “dangerous” people the media typically associates with terrorism and other types of crime.

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