Racism Sells News

April 25, 2005

Last week a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury in the case against two Palo Alto cops who beat up a homeless man. Yes, race was at issue, since it was Palo Alto and the homeless man was black. The twist inserted into this story by the Palo Alto Online News is that the two cops were Chinese American, and the jury split along racial lines: the eight non-Asian jurors voted to convict, and the four Asian jurors voted to acquit.

Most of the jurors' questions hinged around the issue of whether or not the cops had a right to detain the homeless man, who hadn't committed a crime (he was sleeping in his car.) Neighbors had called in a complaint, the man had spooked a woman in a nearby car, and the cops claimed that they felt threatened by the man's behavior when they attempted to question him. However, whether this all constitutes a legal cause to detain the man is very much in question.

Of the eight convicting jurors, one was African American and the rest "appeared" to be white. Of the four acquitting jurors, two were Chinese, one was Filipino, and one was Vietnamese.

The strange thing about the article referenced above is that it makes an issue of the race of the acquitting jurors, yet none of the participants interviewed accused them of racial bias. The prosecutor raised the issue of race in the complaints against and possible detention of a black homeless man, pointing out that residents of that white neighborhood would routinely call in complaints about black men. But again, no one directly accused the Asian American jurors of favoring the cops, or possibly discounting the homeless man, on the basis of race.

Yet, though there are no direct accusations, there's the indirect accusation made by not accusing. You know, creating an insinuation out of nothing. "Oh, the rumors about his pedophilia are completely unfounded ...", while a true statement of someone about whom there are no rumors of pedophilia, is intended to mislead, and suffices to both accuse and convict someone of pedophilia.

Likewise in this article, the statement by the defense attorney is taken entirely out of context: "To call [the acquitting jurors] all Asians is a little bit misleading. My discussions with them is they looked at the facts and the law and didn't believe the D.A. proved his case." We can assume that he uttered this howler in response to a question from the reporter regarding the racial issue of the jurors. Yet the fact that he said it at all seems to indicate that the race of the jurors was an issue completely on its own. However, if the reporter created the issue out of thin air, simply by asking the question, how would we know?

The above statement, coming together with a quote from Sunday Udoffia, the sole black juror ("There was not even a chance that those four (would) change their mind") appears pretty damning, although you'll notice that Udoffia made no reference to race whatsoever.

It's possible that the article is just poorly written, or that the reporter was responding to definite complaints of racism in the jury, which then evaporated when the reporter asked direct questions. On the other hand, the vagueness, the mistiness of this article's premise and point, could also be the effects of the wool being pulled over our eyes. How would we ever know?

And what's the point of making misty spins in the internet air, you ask. Well, had you ever heard of the Palo Alto Online News before this? Neither had I. And yet know I'm linking to their website. Racism sells news.




European/American Issues ForumCW Kuhn, Secretary--Frank P. Williams, Treasurer--Louis Calabro, PresidentMarch 9, 2006Heather FongChief of Police850 Bryant St. 5th FloorSan Francisco, 94103Subject: Request to Investigate Chinatown Homeless Beating as RaciallyMotivate Hate Crime. ( Occurred March 6, 2006)Dear Chief Fong:The European/American Issues Forum, a moderate and thoughtful Bay Area civil rights organization respectfully requests that the recent beating of a homeless white man by young Asian men in Chinatown be investigated to determine if it was a racially motivated hate crime. The victim was white.We are shocked to read your Public Affairs Office Press Release that does not mention that the victim is a white man**. If the homeless man were Asian and the perpetrators white, then the newspapers, television stations, the police department and the SF Human Rights Commission might sound an alarm calling for a racially motivated hate crime prosecution. We have no objection to that response. However, we rightfully expect the same kind of a response when a white homeless man is beaten by Asian youth.We hope the investigating officers would pursue a line of questioning that could reveal racial motives. Only the San Francisco Examiner, Bonnie Eslinger, reported the race of victim and perpetrators. Thank you.Sincerely,Louis Calabro, President** http://www.sfgov.org/site/police_index.asp?id=37948cc: FBI Office, San FranciscoOffice of the PresidentPMB253 1212H El Camino Real, San Bruno, Ca. 94066(670) 312-8284 eaifpres [at] aol.com
actually the fact that they didn't mention the victim as a white man is an indication of the extent to which 'white' is perceived as the norm - hence no need to mention it. If it isn't mentioned, then the subject MUST be white - white is the default norm. We only identify the 'abnormal'.
Is there a divide between Asians and whites in the Bay Area?
it depends on where you are and what you call a divide. anyone want to tackle this one?
I was just curious, because of the Louis Calabro comment. Thats way I asked if theres some type of divide. I can see him writing this about blacks, but not Asians
i think the reason he writes his letter on an asian-white perspective is because the victim was white and the perpetrators were asian. there would be no reason to address or dredge up issues in white/black relationships in this matter. they are irrelvant.
while I can understand your critique that 'internet news' must be taken with many grains of salt, i otherwise am a bit confused about your final take on this.On the issue of no direct accusation of racial bias from the other jurors or the D.A., it would be rare indeed for people to say directly 'i think this or that person, as an individual, is a racist' unless they heard or witnessed direct statements or actions that 'confirmed' this for them. i suspect that most people would be even more reluctant to make such accusations if they knew that their 'musings' could find their way to print. so the lack of a direct accusation when questioned by a reporter does not surprise me. the insinuation or 'implication' from the lone black juror is pretty strong. it is an interesting coincidence that the convicting and acquiting jurors are so ethnically 'clustered'. in a civil trial you only need the 'preponderance of the evidence' and this would certainly support that.are you skeptical that the 'asian jurors' would vote to acquit based on 'racial bonding' with the defendants? why? if the reverse were true and it were white jurors voting to acquit white defendants (a la Rodney King) or white jurors voting to convict a non-white defendant (a possible future in St. Paul) would you be so skeptical? isn't it reasonable to think that asians suffer unto the same biases, weaknesses and failings as other humans?hyphen's own blog entries (not that these are equivalent to editorial philosophy) have noted the general 'negative reaction' many a hyphenator would receive if they came home with a black S.O. there must be a reason why.could it be that the biases created by white society against blacks (to whit, being 'spooked' by the presence of a black man in palo alto - did they really write 'spooked'!!!?) have trickled down to others? i know you know the answer.as for the press playing up the race angle; of course they will, especially when they can say (in effect) "see, it this was not done by whites, this was done by asians - ostensibly 'one of them'. so if they feel that way about 'their own' (as in not 'us') then aren't we justified in doing so too?" did anyone question the white woman who called as to what her major malfunction is that she calls the cops on a guy sleeping in his car? how was she threatend by that?
Yeah, they really wrote "spooked".I actually didn't get as deep as you did on this one. I was only critiquing the way the article was written. If you read the article critically, you'll see that there's no evidence within the article that the race of the jurors was actually an issue. It's quite possible that the "issue" was created by an overzealous reporter. "There was not even a chance that those four would change their mind" could be said about any four jurors of any race who had hung a jury. There's no racial implication whatsoever in the statement.Do I not believe that four Asian jurors would acquit two Asian cops on the basis of a bias? I totally believe it and I think it's interesting. Yes it all trickles down. Yes, it's all true what you wrote.But that wasn't my point. My point was: if the reporter created this all out of spin, how would we know?
True observation - reporters can create, emphasize or de-emphasize aspects of any story based on their questions, what is edited and who they interview.I think this particular story was also covered in the Mercury in San Jose.Your best defense is either to stick with a 'paper' that you can get a bead on in terms of its slant and factor that in or (if you've got the time) read multiple sources and track the consistancies through the whole mess.