There is, in all the public discussion of the recent incident of teenage rowdyism at the Zebulon Road Wal-Mart, an “elephant in the room,” a subject huge and all but unmentioned, which is tiptoed around as daintily as the subject of sexuality was in bygone times.
Based on published reports, even the president of the local NAACP, in criticizing the severity of the charges, dared not speak its name. That subject, of course, is race. And the question that has not been publicly asked but that needs to be asked is, “How would this incident be handled if the people involved were white?”
There is, of course, no way to know for sure. But, based on the information made public so far, the incident, which followed a late-night party, seems much like a simple case of teenage overexuberance, perhaps abetted by the idleness of summer vacation and possibly exacerbated by inhibition-loosening substances of one kind or another. One cannot help but wonder if these had been the sons and daughters of upper-class white families the episode would have been handled quietly and resulted in the proverbial “slap on the wrist.” Instead, we hear of an alleged conspiracy to inflict as much damage as possible, resulting in multiple felony charges and bonds of up to five figures.
From the video, it appears that the vast majority of those involved did nothing more than run through the store. Even the word “vandalism,” estimated to have caused $2,000 in damage, seems perhaps too strong for the act of knocking things off of shelves. If a group of 88 teenagers had truly been intent on committing serious vandalism, Wal-Mart’s losses most likely would have been in the millions, not $2,000. Yes, obviously, the culprits must be held accountable and made to understand the gravity of violating other people’s property. But they must be treated exactly as if they were white, no better and no worse.
As a result of the recent hate crime in South Carolina, the South is now busily engaged in removing the Confederate flag from public property, an action that -- however complicated the reasons for the Civil War may have been and however bravely many Southerners fought in it -- is long overdue. Let us endeavor to be certain that, even as that flag is relegated to history, Jim Crow justice is equally a thing of the past in Middle Georgia.
David Mann is a free-lance writer based in Macon.