Racial rhetoric and reaction

December 20, 1993

Jesse Jackson went to Long Island to issue an appeal to whites not to react racially to the fact that Colin Ferguson, the black man who shot 23 passengers on a commuter train, killing six, said he acted out of racist motives. Reverend Jackson, like other students of race relations, fears "inflammatory rhetoric," as he put it, could lead to a white backlash against black individuals, against blacks as a group and against policies and programs designed to deal with the impact of present and, especially, past white racism.

We certainly endorse the Jackson appeal. Any white opinion leaders who demagogue the race issue by invoking this tragedy should be denounced in no uncertain terms. Extremist, irresponsible rhetoric can have a cause-and-effect relationship to violent criminal behavior, even when the speaker may not desire that, but is just exaggerating for effect. Hyperbole is dangerous in racial matters.

We don't believe for a minute that the maniac gunman on the commuter train was filled with race hatred by anything he heard from such bigots as, say, Sister Souljah or Ice Cube, the rap singers who have urged blacks to commit lethal violence on whites. Nor is it likely that he was encouraged to go on his rampage by, say, Rep. Maxine Waters, who said black violence in Los Angeles was morally justified. Nor do charges that there is an American "genocide" aimed at blacks by, among others, even Reverend Jackson, explain Colin Ferguson's homicidal rage. No, the commuter train murderer, apparently, responded to voices from inside his head, not from outside.

Irresponsible comments from black political leaders, entertainers, journalists and educators may only contribute very slightly to "hate" crimes by blacks, but even a slight amount is too much. One small spark can start one big fire. Reverend Jackson says "it is time to move from violence and inflammatory rhetoric." Absolutely. Everyone.

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