Victor Davis Hanson

Violence following the recent fatal shooting of an unarmed robbery suspect in Ferguson, Missouri, has tragically followed a predictable script.

On average, more than 6,000 African-Americans are killed by gun violence each year. That startling figure is nearly equal to all of the U.S. combat fatalities incurred in both Afghanistan and Iraq over some 13 years. African-Americans are the victims in about half of the homicides in America each year despite the fact that blacks represent only about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

One would think that these alarming statistics would provoke the sort of protests that we've seen in Ferguson, but that is not the case. Nor does racial unrest automatically follow cases in which white police officers fatally shoot black criminal suspects. Only a small handful of such instances trigger outrage in the black community.

Instead, the sort of civil unrest we're seeing in Ferguson is most likely to be ignited by the infrequent and disparate cases in which someone white, whether a police officer or not, fatally shoots an unarmed African-American.

Controversy, for example, arose over George Zimmerman's fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Now, small-town Ferguson is in an uproar over a police officer's fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

There is a second theme in such cases. The media almost invariably distorts the facts, sometimes deliberately seeking to incite tensions. In the Trayvon Martin case, journalists published photos of Martin as a diminutive adolescent, not more recent pictures of Martin as a 17-year old who was much taller than Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was referred to by the New York Times as a "white Hispanic" (a term not usually accorded those of mixed ancestry). ABC News was accused of airing footage of Zimmerman shortly after his encounter with Martin that concealed the severity of Zimmerman's head injuries. NBC edited a recording of Zimmerman's 911 call to police in a way that suggested Zimmerman was a racist. CNN falsely speculated that Zimmerman may have used the racial slur "coon" during his 911 call.

In the Brown case, the media has rushed to portray the victim as a "gentle giant" who was almost certainly gunned down by a racist, trigger-happy cop. Only days later it was reported that just minutes before his death, the 6-foot-4, 292-pound Brown had allegedly committed a strong-armed robbery, bullying and assaulting a store owner half his size -- and had been almost immediately been stopped not far away for walking down the middle of the road.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.