Friday, August 23, 2013

How the homicide of a Spokane veteran became a racially tinged national talking point

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 8:07 AM

The seemingly random beating death of an elderly veteran by two Spokane teens has already inspired outrage and horror, not just locally, but nationally. Actor James Woods has called for attention to the case.

Locally, many media outlets have been focusing on this veteran’s life – who he was and what he did. But in some national reports, the focus has been different. The Drudge Report, the conservative news aggregator/traffic driver that, years ago, broke the Lewinsky scandal, placed an all-caps 'SHORTY' LEFT FOR DEAD headline abut the beating of Delbert Belton, and in red text at the very top of his widely read news blog, proclaimed, “89-year-old World War II veteran beaten to death by two black teens... Developing...”

It not only has a minor factual error (the police press release says he’s 88, not 89) but it leads with the fact that the teens were black, despite there being no evidence the crime was racially motivated. So why focus on a detail that only appears 15 paragraphs down in the KXLY story Drudge links to? Why not focus on the fact that one was skinny and one was fatter, or that one was wearing black and one was wearing a doo rag?

It’s especially curious because the typical conservative position on race is that it shouldn’t matter, that media outlets obsess over it too much. Many conservatives took issue with the racial-injustice lens the Trayvon Martin case was reported through.

Drudge also featured a slew of similarly racially tinged links, including “Buchanan: 'Interracial violence is overwhelmingly black-on-white' (at conspiracy site World Net Daily) and “Black unemployment twice rate of white unemployment under Obama.”

It’s important to understand context here. Drudge, and a wide swath of the conservative media, has also been focusing on death of Chris Lane, a white Australian baseball player by Oklahoma teens, heavily implying race was a motivating factor (despite one of three teens being white). Rush Limbaugh and numerous other conservative websites have been beating the drum, searching for a kind of counterpoint to Trayvon Martin’s death. For some on the right, the murder of a 88-year-old veteran fits nicely into that narrative.

Indeed, the night he tweeted about Delbert, James Woods also linked to this Fox News video about whether race was a motivating factor to Lane’s death. (Woods has also lately been praised by conservatives for blasting Al Sharpton as a bigot.)

A basic rule of journalism is to avoid focusing on race unless it’s an important part of the story. But at the website of the conservative political website Human Events, a columnist blasts national media outlets for not focusing on race enough.

World Net Daily picked up on the Drudge’s racial characterization. So did Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro who lead with a similar headline, “89-Year-Old Wounded WWII Vet Beaten to Death by Two Black Teens.”

And lest you think that that the readers just breezed past the race of the assailants, the comment below the story, “Very sad! This is what happens when Obama's sons run wild, hope that Delbert told them to go F themselves! RIP Delbert Belton” received over 400 upvotes.

On Twitter, Shapiro writes “This doesn't have to do with institutional racism, slavery, or Jim Crow. It has to do with intolerable evil. Until the media begin highlighting horrific crimes no matter the culprit, America will not solve its crime problem… #JusticeForDelbert.”

Another Breitbart writer used this tragedy to get a dig in at Obama: “Hi @BarackObama: it would mean a lot if yer classless need to comment on local crimes classed up with some words about #DelbertBelton”  He received over 90 retweets.

Many in the stream of commenters on the KXLY Facebook page and the Spokesman-Review article have insisted on drawing parallels between the death of Trayvon Martin, and the death of this veteran, despite their cause of death, ages, locations, and circumstances being wildly different.   

More obscure blogs upped the racism quotient:

  • “In Spokane, Washington Delbert Belton became the latest victim of black teens killing ‘evil whitey,” reads the Fire Andrea Mitchell blog.
  • “Race War: Black Thugs Beat And Kill 90 Year-Old WW II Vet,” reads blog Sword At-The-Ready “Yet another black on white murder in Obama’s Amerika.”
  • “Once again we find that minority crime intrudes into civilized society,” reads a post on One Citizen Speaking “And while the progressive mainstream media will call this another ‘random crime,’ the truth is that young black men are being ihe tncarcerated for good cause… it’s because they are criminals and they are getting a pass from their community and the progressives.”

Now, as anyone who’s ventured into the YouTube comment cesspit knows, it’s not hard to find racism on the Internet. And there are plenty of conservatives discussing this story — even Glenn Beck’s website — without leading with the racial factor. National Review writer Jonah Goldberg, who just lambasted MSNBC for making everything racial (and discussed the Lane case) backpedaled on his earlier reaction to “catch and hang these guys” once he found out the assailants were black.

But for some local reporters, the national tendency for some to slot in tragedies to preexisting narratives has been disturbing.

“There is nothing to indicate the attack on #DelbertBelton was racially motivated. I hope people will focus now on finding attackers. #kxly,” tweeted KXLY reporter Melissa Luck, “People say there's no outrage about the beating death of #DelbertBelton. This is my community - there is plenty of outrage… Final thought from me: it's disrespectful for a man like #DelbertBelton to reduce his death to a talking point. He deserves better.”

And Spokesman columnist Shawn Vestal took an even more aggressive tack: “Dear reactionary, post-Zimmerman bigots: It's revolting to watch you use Delbert Belton's death to fuel your Obama Derangement Syndrome.”


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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...