Imagine for a moment that a white woman wearing a gorilla mask threw an egg at the first black American with a serious chance of becoming governor of California as he visited homeless encampments with black and Latino community leaders. Imagine that, seconds later, both the gorilla-masked woman and a white man punched the candidate’s security guard. And imagine that somebody fired a pellet gun into the crowd.
It is reasonable to expect that such an event would be instantly and roundly condemned as a racist hate crime by civil rights leaders, talking heads, and political leaders. Some might demand an FBI investigation into whether the woman acted alone, and why the L.A. police had failed to protect the candidate. And it is reasonable to expect that, within hours, there would have been protests in Los Angeles and across the country.
And yet, after this exact event occurred in Los Angeles yesterday before noon it aroused neither extensive news media coverage, widespread condemnation, nor protests. The Los Angeles Times, to its credit, mentioned in its article that “ape characterizations have been used as a racist trope for centuries.” But it kept the racial aspect out of the headline, which read, “Larry Elder cuts short Venice homeless encampment tour after hostile reception.” Then, a few hours later the LA Times published yet another article depicting Elder as a sell-out.
I endorsed Elder’s rival in the race, and disagree with Elder’s positions on many issues, but I am bothered by how many progressives and supposedly objective reporters are ignoring or downplaying the troubling incident, which should be condemned. Josh Haskell of the local ABC TV station tweeted that Elder’s security guard “faced off with some residents.” But the video Haskell included in his tweet clearly show a man punching Elder’s security guard in the head. The New York Times, for its part, buried mention of the event in the 13th paragraph of a story about Vice President Kamala Harris stumping for Governor Gavin Newsom against the recall. Three hours after the assault went viral on Twitter, Barack Obama tweeted at his followers to vote no on the “Republican recall,” and made no mention of the attack then or since.
Others trivialized what happened. MSNBC Commentator, Jason Johnson, tweeted, “Uhm… Larry Elder clearly underestimated the political engagement of the house insecure community in L.A.,” attributing the attack to homeless activists. Quipped progressive journalist Tara Dublin, “Larry Elder was just mad that it was an unfertilized egg,” a reference to Elder’s opposition to late-stage abortion.
Making the reaction more troubling were the events that led up to the assault. Two weeks ago, The Los Angeles Times published a column headlined, “Larry Elder is the Black face of White supremacy.” On Monday, a California professor repeated the insult at an event with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who did not condemn her remarks.
One need not believe the insult, “black face,” to be racist to see the widespread repetition of the insult as evidence of a partisan double-standard. Consider what the media’s reaction might have been had the same assault occurred after a newspaper columnist and professor condemned a Democratic candidate as “the black face of Communism.” Many would view such incendiary claims as contributing to an atmosphere of hate.
It is possible that the news media, pundits, and politicians will still condemn the attack and, in my last column, I noted that the news media’s one-sided treatment of Elder appears to stem more from ideology and partisanship than from racism. The woman who wore the gorilla mask may have done so inadvertently, and not as a way to ridicule Elder’s race. But had Elder been a Democrat it’s likely the assault, which occurred before noon pacific time, would have already been denounced and protested.
Soledad Ursúa and Chie Lunn, co-chairs of the Public Safety Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Association, accompanied Elder as he visited Venice. “I haven’t been able to sleep,” said Ursúa at 5 am this morning. “I was really upset yesterday. It was just sad and disgusting. I’ve never seen that kind of hate before. I imagine that’s what a KKK rally would have been like.”
What was Elder’s reaction to the assault? I asked her. “He seemed composed and didn’t seem intimidated,” she said. “He told us that he had been called worse things by better people.” Ursúa said the white man with Elder was Brian Ulf from SHARE! Housing, a homeless service provider. “He does outreach to the homeless and was briefing Larry on our walk” she said. “Someone hit him with a bicycle.”
I asked Ursúa, who is Latina, if she though the attack was racially motivated. She said the attackers were of all races. “It was a white woman screaming at him” but that there were two African American men “screaming the most vile racial slurs,” including the N-word. Ursúa was taken aback. “I didn’t believe that this kind of hate still existed today,” she said. “That was scary to witness. I cried later just thinking about what he is going through.” Said Ursúa, “I do not think the racism was real, I think it was paid activists. But I keep thinking about Chie’s kids. They don’t know that and what will they think if they see this on the news?”
Last week I wrote that the “Elder candidacy opens up a positive change: we do finally seem close to reaching the point where we can disagree constructively with candidates of a different race.” Now, given the dismissal and trivialization of the incident by so many prominent public figures, including some I respected, I’m not so sure.