Though Barack Obama continues to enjoy significant approval and popularity ratings in scientifically researched polls, less definitively linked and documented are the number of crimes in which citizens of color have been victims since Obama's election. Starting with the New Year's Day shooting, in the back, of unarmed Oakland train passenger Oscar Grant by a White cop, a handful of deaths under questionable circumstances have befallen young Black men. Though the crimes – most recently including the shooting of a museum security guard by a White supremacist – can’t be traced beyond a doubt to Obama outrage, the idea of a Black-lash vexes folks like Wayne State University professor Jack Lessenberry.
"I have been very worried that the election of President Obama would enrage the worst of the crazies to violent acts against minorities, especially now that the president seems to have enormous across-the-categories popularity," says Lessenberry, a political commentator and writer, who supported Obama's election. "On the other hand, we should not assume that every shooting is racially motivated, as when a frightened store employee shoots a Black kid during a holdup."
Sixteen-year-old Antwun Parker's attempted "holdup" of an Oklahoma drugstore several weeks ago touched off politically charged debate among conservative radio and community members in the region. Parker was unarmed when he and another teen, waving a pistol, were fended off by Jerome Erstland, a White counter clerk who shot Parker in the head. After chasing his accomplice from the store, Erstland returned inside, retrieved another pistol and shot Parker five more times, killing him, though evidence reportedly shows that the youth was unconscious and posed no threat. Erstland spent little time in jail, pending his trial, and is already back at work after his bail was posted and predominantly White supporters have showered him with praise and financial donations.
Though the increase began when Obama was just a local hero in Chicago politics, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate crimes have risen by 54 percent since 2000. Nonetheless, the rise was "fueled" in 2008 "by immigration fears, a failing economy and the successful campaign of Barack Obama," according to the Center’s February Intelligence Report.
The wife of James von Brunn, an 88-year-old neo-Nazi, tells the New York Daily News that von Brunn feared a nation "ruled by Black governors" decades before he shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum two weeks ago. While Obama’s leadership has inspired new pride throughout the nation, some warn that others are also becoming inspired.
Says the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok.: "The idea of a Black man in the White House, combined with the deepening economic crisis and continuing high levels of Latino immigration, has given White supremacists a real platform on which to recruit."