When a mob of black teens rampaged through a Kroger parking lot one night last week and attacked three people, it started a storm of controversy, mainly because a store employee caught much of it on video. As is inevitable these days, the video was put on every media site in town and shared countless times on Facebook and Twitter. Some national websites then picked it up.
The Flyer's Louis Goggans posted a report and a link to the video on our website. The incident — or better said, the video of the incident — served as a sort of social Rorschach test. Viewers mostly used it to enhance and support their own narratives in the comments section.
Racists found it the perfect excuse to use the "n word" and/or to disparage all black teens as "thugs" or "animals." For Memphis haters, it offered a wonderful opportunity to bash the city and brag about how they "got out in time." Gun lovers pointed out how much better the situation would have been if someone had just shot some of the teens. Liberals saw the incident as the inevitable result of income inequality.
Also getting some play were: "Where are the parents?" "The school system sucks!" "This was a hate crime!" And "Where's Al Sharpton?" (Which is apparently comedy gold for a lot of angry white people.)
Then a few facts emerged: The teens left a nearby pizza joint en masse and came after a guy getting out of his car; probably the first person they saw. The police called him "non-African American," which could mean he was Hispanic or Asian or white. Two Kroger employees — one black, one white — came to his assistance and were attacked and knocked unconscious.
Within a couple days, the MPD had rounded up 11 of the teens; some of whom had been turned in by their parents. The mayor and the police chief, both African Americans, held a press conference, denounced the incident, and pledged to arrest all involved. This calm and professional handling of the incident disappointed a lot of commenters, mainly, because the teens were not charged with a hate crime, which is difficult to prove and likely not applicable in this case. But apparently, for some folks, if someone you hate commits a crime, it's a hate crime. Case closed.
And I learned something interesting about those "discussing" the incident on the Flyer website. After deleting more than 20 racist and/or vile Memphis-hating comments one evening, I decided to use our site technology to see where they came from. Seventeen of those comments came from out of town, and I don't mean Bartlett. People from Michigan, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and elsewhere were flooding the Flyer site with ignorant racist remarks and Memphis-bashing.
It's a good example of how a discussion about how to deal with a local problem can be distorted by those with no real knowledge of the situation and no skin in the game — except a desperate need to promote their own sad hatred.