Adding still more fuel to the media bias claim is a group of white supremacists on one side and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. on the other. Mr. Pitts pointed out that the Knoxville incident wasn't considered a hate crime and refuted claims that black crime is underreported. He ended his column with four words for whites who feel oppressed: "Cry me a river."
That's pure columnist flare, but decidedly, um, gutsy considering the likely reaction from people who are not widely known for tolerance. A neo-Nazi group has posted Mr. Pitts' address and phone number and his wife's name on its Web site. Mr. Pitts has received several death threats.
In 2005, among about 7,000 hate crimes - mostly intimidation (48.9 percent) and simple assault (30.2 percent) - just six murders and three rapes were reported as fitting the hate crime definition, according to the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics report. Though we may hate "hate crimes," those numbers hardly seem sufficient to justify extra laws designating a special category for certain victims.
Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have insisted that hate crime laws are necessary because crimes that make minority communities fearful "damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities." The Duke and Knoxville cases cast doubts on that premise. It is human nature to resent groups and individuals deemed more special than others.
Signaling through laws (or media treatment) that one group's suffering is more grievous than another's - or that one person's murder is worse than another's - is also likely to fragment communities, as well as to engender the very animosities such laws are meant to deter.