Why Did Trayvon Martin’s Death Upset Us More Than Black Kids Killing Each Other?

The mayor of New Orleans says it’s ironic that gang violence is largely ignored while other crimes gain national attention.

In the city of New Orleans, young black men are killing other young black men. This issue, says mayor Mitch Landrieu, is the center of disparities in education, employment, and poverty—but for the most part, it’s a problem that’s ignored.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Karen Finney at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday, Landrieu implied that there’s hypocrisy in the way Americans talk about race: While situations like the death of Trayvon Martin provoke widespread public outrage, no one pays attention to everyday gun violence that mostly affects young black men.

Kids killing kids on the streets is not what happened in the Trayvon Martin case. Trayvon Martin was about injustice. It was about disparate treatments of African Americans and whites in the judicial system, which is why we’ve paid attention to that for a long time.

But you might want to ask yourself: If we paid that much attention to the Trayvon issue, why didn’t you pay attention last night to the kid that got killed in your neighborhood?

I bet you that if you go back and you read the back section of your paper, a young African American kid was shot in your neighborhood, probably by another young African American, and you didn’t even know about it.”

The interesting question is: What upsets us, and why?

This is an interesting question, indeed. Landrieu, who is white, spoke in a surprisingly open way about the media reports on race and crime. “On the ground, what we talk about is kids getting killed, and why they’re getting killed, and a culture of violence that has developed that is about guns, but it’s not just about guns. It is about poverty, but it’s not just about poverty. It is about jobs, but it’s not just about jobs.”

In discussions of Trayvon Martin and similarly racialized cases, cultural commentators often bring up the particularly troubled history of racism and violence in the South. Although this is important, Landrieu said, he strongly objected to the way Southerners are often characterized in these discussions. “People say, well that’s just because people in the South don’t know how to read or write, and they don’t have shoes, and they’re not really as smart as the rest of the country,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu warned Northerners not to be overconfident. “The city of New Orleans is this nation’s canary in the coalmine. Everything that’s happening in our city, good or bad, is a reflection of what’s happening in the United States of America. Do not be smug enough to think that these are things you can’t have in your city. If you go look in the right neighborhoods and the right places, you’ve got everything that we have. This city of New Orleans has become a really good mirror of this nation as it looks into its soul about what works and what doesn’t.”

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also writes about religion and culture.

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