The grisly Manhattan murder of Timothy Caughman, an elderly black man, by a white racist bent on dissuading people from interracial dating shocked even the most jaded New Yorkers. Responding to calls from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance indicted the confessed killer James Jackson on state charges of “murder as an act of terror.”
Speaking about the crime at a press conference earlier this week, the mayor condemned President Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer for not forthrightly labeling the murder a hate crime or an act of terrorism. “If a guy kills someone for a racist reason, call him a racist, call him a terrorist, period,” said de Blasio. “This was a horrible incident, and exceedingly rare: we can’t remember another situation exactly like this in recent history in New York City.”
Every incident differs in its details, but the mayor shouldn’t have had to tax his memory too strenuously to recall a recent murder that was at least vaguely similar. Last month, Chanel Lewis was arrested for the murder of Karina Vetrano, who was strangled to death while jogging in a park near her house. Lewis, who is black, told an NYPD detective that Vetrano, a white woman, came from the Howard Beach area in Queens, a 90-percent white Italian-American neighborhood. “I don’t like those people over there,” Lewis admitted.
The murders of Caughman and Vetrano were random killings perpetrated by strangers of a different race from their victims. In each case, the confessed killers offered up racist motives to the police, and those confessions are the only evidence of the killers’ intentions. In one case, the admission of racial animus was reported and quickly forgotten; in the other, racist motives have elevated the slaying beyond a hate crime to the realm of domestic terrorism, with a demand for action at the highest levels of the federal government.
These two arrests, occurring six weeks apart, vividly illustrate Lenin’s and Trotsky’s “Who, whom?” formulation: when considering the correct response to any situation, the first question to ask is, “Who did what to whom?” Depending on your class position in 1920s Russia or your race in twenty-first century America, your syntactic position in that sentence determines whether you’re a heroic martyr or an ordinary victim, a terrorist or merely a pathetic unfortunate.
To call James Jackson a “terrorist” indicates that the language of outrage is in a hyper-inflationary spiral. The designation of “hate,” as a means of emphasizing that certain violent crimes are especially vicious because of the mindset of the perpetrator, has always been criticized as imprecise, as well as unnecessary: there are no “hate crimes” that aren’t already on the books as regular crimes, so why enter the hazy domain of thought-crime? But now that every bathroom-wall swastika or muttered subway imprecation is technically a hate crime, truly heinous crimes need a more emphatic designation.
Calls for Jackson to be tried and treated as a terrorist are part of the Left’s long struggle to define the terms of how we think about violence. We see this in the debate about the recent riots in Berkeley, where masked anarchists smashed windows and burned cars and apologists termed the incidents “nonviolent” because no one was hurt; or in the comments of London mayor Sadiq Khan, who said, following a bombing in Manhattan that injured dozens of people, that such attacks “are part and parcel” of living in a great city—nothing to fuss about, apparently.
Liberals like Khan and de Blasio resent the fact that the most visible and obvious mass violence being committed throughout the West is Islamist jihad. To the Left, particularizing this kind of violence as “terror” is a cynical, racist ploy to justify the persecution of the non-white, non-Western Other. Leftist apologists for jihad reflexively blame the victims of terror for having provoked it, even as they fulsomely condemn all forms of violence.
In response to what it sees as an unjust rhetorical scheme by a racist police state, the Left is pushing to redefine terrorism as crime, crime as terrorism. So President Obama described the Orlando and San Bernardino massacres as the result of lax gun regulations, and the Fort Hood massacre as an episode of violence in the workplace. Meanwhile, a lone killer of one individual on a Manhattan street, whose motives are known only because he volunteered them, is indicted on terror charges in order to satisfy a political agenda of black victimhood, for which white perpetrators are in short supply.
Photo New York City Mayor’s Office