Commentary: The McCain fan who wasn't mugged

The Miami HeraldOctober 29, 2008 

It smelled worse than rotting garbage in triple digit heat, but I'm not surprised some folks swallowed it anyway.

Meaning the story that was a mini-sensation for about 15 minutes last week: the McCain campaign worker supposedly mugged by a black man in Pittsburgh. For those who missed it, the details are as follows. Ashley Todd, 20, claimed she was accosted by a 6'4'' black man who demanded money. When said black man saw a John McCain bumpersticker on her car, he became enraged and, in an apparent effort to make her support Barack Obama, carved a ''B'' on her cheek.

It was enough to send some conservative bloggers - Michelle Malkin was a notable exception - into fits of apoplexy. One, Dan Riehl of riehlworldview.com, reportedly unburdened himself of the opinion that "Obama's run his campaign just like a street thug out of Chicago. Now we get to see what some of his worst supporters are like." Another spoke of "black savages" roaming the street. Then there's the reader who said I should be ''embarrassed'' at what this other black man had done.

Well, that slimy yellow goo you see dripping down those people's faces today would be egg. See, there's a reason this story smelled like garbage. It was. Pittsburgh police say Todd eventually confessed to making the whole thing up.

As I told the aforementioned reader in an admittedly uncharitable moment, anyone with half a brain should have figured as much from the get-go. Some folks became suspicious when they saw a picture of the ''B'' - too neat a job, they said. Others say it was the fact that the ''B'' was backward, as if it had been carved using a mirror.

Me, I found Ashley Todd's story fishy before I ever saw the ''B.'' Her mugger sounded like no mugger I've heard of before. Your typical street thug does any violence he feels compelled to do, scoops up whatever valuables he can and vacates the scene ASAP. He does not hang around to discuss politics.

That's reality. Todd's tall tale, however, fits a fantasy white people occasionally espouse when the discussion turns to black on white crime. Some of them -- emphasize some -- believe black muggers mug them as a political statement, a way of exacting righteous black revenge for slavery, Jim Crow, and, oh, I don't know, Kenny G.

Indeed, years ago, a guy assured me with perfect equanimity that I, as a black man, could walk unafraid through the worst slums in Detroit whereas he, as a white man, would have real reason to fear. I tried to explain to him that there is no such thing as a ''brother pass,'' that dark skin is not a Get-Out-Of-Mugging-Free card. I tried to explain that violent crime is actually a highly segregated affair -- blacks victimize blacks, whites victimize whites. I tried to explain that if we walked together through his hypothetical slum, the one in danger would be the one who looked like he had the most money and the least clue.

He didn't buy it, of course. Indeed, over the years, I've heard other people repeat his reasoning. I've come to regard it as a manifestation of latent white guilt, this conviction some white folks have that black crime is a statement of protest; i.e., that black guy mugged me because I represent to him decades of oppression and discrimination.

It never seems to occur to such folks that maybe the mugger mugged them because - all together now - he's a mugger. Mugging people is what he does.

Ashley Todd's bizarre story fits into that paradigm of paranoia and white guilt as snugly as a jigsaw puzzle piece. Some of us wonder what motivated her, but I think we should be saving our curiosity for the people with the egg on their faces.

I don't care why she told that lie. I am curious why they were so ready to believe it.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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