The death of Trayvon Martin is a terrible thing, but the usual suspects are hijacking his death to create a morality play. Whenever this happens, and it happens with some frequency in American life, truth is corrupted.
About 153 young black men are killed every week in America -- 94 percent of them at the hands of other young black males. Only one of those who were murdered on Feb. 26 has dominated national news coverage -- because his killer was not black.
There is an etiquette to discussing ethnicity that goes straight out the window if the press decides to create a racial villain. Normally, if a person is of mixed ancestry, as George Zimmerman is, he gets the benefit of the doubt on being a minority. A person with mixed ancestry, such as Cameron Diaz or Bill Richardson, would never be called "half white." But Zimmerman became, in the phrase adopted by The New York Times, a "white Hispanic."
Among the disgusting features of this national drama is the furious search for Zimmerman's exact racial/ethnic pedigree. He's a full Hispanic, claims one website. He's half white but considers himself a Hispanic, says his father. Do they hear themselves? Could apartheid South Africa have been more exacting in searching for the drops of racial blood?
The left has ginned up the outrage machine, as if America were experiencing an epidemic of white on black killings and this was the last straw. This is fiction. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 3.2 percent of black victims were murdered by whites in 2005, the last year for which data are available. The black on white rate was higher -- 8.8 percent -- but still, the data show that murder remains very much an intraracial phenomenon.
It isn't at all clear what happened on Feb. 26. It certainly appears that Zimmerman used excessive violence. Zimmerman's story of being in a fight (apparently corroborated by an eyewitness) is not supported by the videotape that shows him unharmed at the police station.
The facts remain far from clear.
The dead youth, who is now universally imagined as his 13- or 14-year-old self because of the old picture that has circulated, may or may not have been up to something more than buying Skittles that night (not that that would justify the shooting). We don't know.
But we do know the way narratives are created and manipulated to make political points. The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a tragedy by any reckoning, was perverted into a "hate crime" by a media keen to create a gay victimization story and by a defense attorney looking for an argument about why his client "snapped." (He claimed that Shepard made a pass and his client became violent in response.) The fictional version of the tale -- that Shepard was singled out, tortured and murdered because he was gay -- lives on in books, television dramas, and one of the most frequently performed plays in the repertoire, "The Laramie Project." It was also the partial inspiration for the federal hate crimes act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
The truth is more complicated. As the ABC show "20/20" reported, the two men who killed Shepard were coming off a weeklong methamphetamine binge. One was raised by an unmarried teenaged alcoholic. The other was the product of divorce and then lost his mother at a young age. Both were heavy drug and alcohol abusers. There is evidence that Shepard himself may have accepted a ride with them because he was into drugs as well. After leaving Shepard bludgeoned and tied to a fence, the killers intended to rob his apartment but got into another brawl with two other criminals that night, one of whom suffered a fractured skull.
It was all ugly -- but not quite in the way the we've been told.
So it was with the Duke lacrosse case. Before anyone really knew what the facts were, the left, including a large segment of the Duke faculty to their eternal shame, peddled a version about spoiled, racist, white college kids abusing and raping a black dancer. We now know how that turned out.
Where preferred victim narratives are concerned, truth is the first casualty of American journalism.