The Matthew Owens Attack: For Obama, Impossible Choices and Deserved Accountability

Actually, Matthew Owens DOES look a little like my son...Of course, it's hard to tell...

From the Huffington Post:

“Alabama police are trying to track down a mob that beat a man into critical condition — leaving their battered victim with the words, ‘Now that’s justice for Trayvon.’ Cops told WKRG that Matthew Owens got in an argument with some kids playing basketball at a court in the city of Mobile on Saturday night. The kids left and a group of some 20 adults arrived at Owens’ front doorstep, armed with chairs, brass knuckles, pipes and paint cans. The group, all African American, allegedly beat him into a bloody pulp before someone uttered the words that connected the crime to the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen who was shot and killed in Florida by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.”


UPDATE (4/25): New reports question some of the details above. The dispute may have started over thefts in the neighborhood witnessed by  Owens’ niece; a neighbor says that Owens had been in disputes frequently; police now say that the beating was administered by only members of the group, with the rest standing by and watching. There has been at least one arrest. Also of note: Owens’ sister’s claim that one of the attackers said “Now that’s justice for Trayvon” may have been corroborated by other neighbors.


This was completely predictable, and indeed it is only the worst, not the first, incident in which an attack on a white victim was linked to “justice” for Trayvon Martin. Now, the reasons I laid out a month ago that made President Obama’s reckless comments about the Sanford, Florida killing divisive and dangerous ought to be obvious to all, but if not, here are some questions to consider:

  • Is Matthew Owens’ beating a national, rather than a local event, justifying Obama’s intervention? The alleged national nature of the Martin shooting was cited as the justification for Obama to help ratchet the tragedy into a wedge in national race relations. Well, let’s see: if 15-20 whites went to a black man’s home and beat him, it would certainly be a national event, correct? And the mention of Martin’s death by one of the assailants links it to the Florida case, showing the degree to which the media’s drum-beating and the case’s exploitation by politicians and demagogues has caused an ambiguous and deadly encounter between two men in a gated community to throw America’s racial healing process into reverses. President Obama, who promised to bring the nation together, helped bring us to this point. Yes, it’s a national issue, even though the mainstream media appears to be attempting to ignore it.
  • Is Obama willing to publicly condemn a real black-on-white hate crime in the same terms of urgency and sorrow that he did an alleged, dubious and still unproven Hispanic-on-black hate crime in March? If not, is it because Trayvon died, and Owens is merely lingering on death’s door? It can’t just be the death, can it? Again; young men and women are being killed every day. Death plus profiling? But Martin may not have been profiled, and Owens was more than profiled…he was targeted and assaulted because of his race. Or is Obama only concerned about white on black crime? If so, why?
  • The President emphasized that Trayvon  looked like him, like the son Obama never had. How does the President feel about victims of race hate who don’t look like him, especially when the haters do? It is not an unfair question: the President himself set the stage for it in March. He is a wretched ethics chess player: couldn’t he see that this day was coming? Couldn’t he see that he was making an impossible dilemma for himself?

Unlike the situation in  March when he helped place a target on George Zimmerman’s back by allying himself with a family and  its supporters who were calling for blood, Obama now needs to say something to the nation about the Owens attack, and the ominous rumblings of racial violence surrounding the Zimmerman trial. This is his job: to display moral and ethical  leadership, to defuse violence and hate, to oppose demagoguery, and to demonstrate that what a victim of hate looks like has no bearing on his sympathies. The pressure of racial discord is rising, and he helped bring the nation to the brink of racial violence. He has a duty to act.

Yet I will be surprised if he does.  Obama dropped the seeds of racial enmity by validating the claim that a dead boy’s “looks “—1.e. race—got him killed, and then stood silent, along with his Attorney General, as a literal bounty was placed on the head of an American citizen. He’s in full election mode now, and will be advised not to upset his “base”—base being defined as the segment of irrational ideologues in either party who should be upset regularly—when he needs them most. The Obama who ran for President four years ago, promising to heal all rifts and be driven by the nation’s best interests, not politics, would have made a speech about this crisis, and let Al Sharpton, the Congressional Black Caucus and Move-On scream in indignation, but I haven’t seen that Obama very often in the past three years. I don’t expect him to surface now.

I hope I’m wrong. We need him, and lives depend on it.


Filed under Government & Politics, Leadership, Race, U.S. Society, Workplace

21 responses to “The Matthew Owens Attack: For Obama, Impossible Choices and Deserved Accountability

  1. You may be jumping the gun, jack. There are lots of confusing items out there, like this one:

    The “justice for Trayvon” taunt may or may not have happened.

    • Fortunately, I’m not President of the United States.
      I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Trayvon” comment never happened; I don’t think it matters, in the context of Obama’s duties. When a black mob beats a white man—his police record is 100% irrelevant, just as the fact that Martin was suspended from school twice and suspected of possessing stolen goods is irrelevant to his death—after a month of the CBC, celebrities and the media making the case that it’s hunting season against blacks, that’s a serious symptom of racial unrest that better be addressed, and quickly.

      My question for you, though is this: Do you still think Obama’s comments on Martin were responsible and prudent?

      • I think Owens’s actions before the attack may be relevant. I just don’t know what preceded the attack. I’d like to know more before saying that Obama should weigh in. Considering the other accounts in the real press I think HuffPost’s piece was inflammatory and irresponsible.

        To answer your question, do I still think Obama’s comments on Martin were responsible and prudent? Yes. My instincts may be coloring my judgment, I can’t be sure: I’m instinctively sympathetic to our President, and even more to this one.

        But I think he spoke to highlight a too-common tragedy and to cool passions. He may need to cool passions in the Owens case as well. Time will tell.

  2. John Robins

    It’s getting worse. Last night I received a robocall from a candidate in the local Hampton, Virginia, City Council raise, attacking of another candidate for a vote who he cast several years ago as a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. The call started “Are you interested in justice for Trayvon? Candidate X isn’t.” What the Martin-Zimmerman has to do with the city council election in Hampton, Virginia, I have no idea, except that the candidate who sponsored the robocall is black and the councilman under attackek is white. Needless to say, while I was considering voting for the former, there is no way I’d vote that way now.

  3. Michael

    This is just another instance that makes it seem like President Obama was not able to live up to his promise to be president of all Americans. Although it isn’t fair, he knew he was going to have to be very careful not to appear to be racially biased as president. He knew he would be under extra scrutiny in racial and partisan matters, as the first black president. He seems to have failed spectacularly. He was supposed to be a great and careful orator, an inspirational speaker, and someone who understood symbolism, but none of that seems to be true. I state this based on too many incidents.

    He has inserted himself into several local issues involving disputes between a black person and a white person (or a hispanic person he will consider white). When has he ever sided with the non-black person?

    His administration had decided that it is perfectly acceptable to have New Black Panther party members, in uniform, act as poll workers or hang out at the entrance to the polls during elections, possibly even if they are armed.

    HIs administration has shown that it is willing to pressure local governments to ignore the civil rights and protections of a citizen by threat of a federal investigation if it benefits a black person. When a white man is shot in front of his 8 year old daughter by a black man in the same area with the same law in question (but with witnesses), no such federal pressure is brought to bear.

    Militant black organizations can hold press conferences to announce bounties and contracts to execute non-black citizens without fear of consequences. The federal government will ignore any call to investigate such a crime (I always thought solicitation to commit murder was a crime).

    When a mild tropical storm threatens the predominantly Democratic Northeast, federal disaster aid is frozen or withdrawn from traditionally Republican areas of the country.

    When tornadoes strike nationwide Democratic or swing states such as Illinois and Indiana get federal disaster aid, but strongly Republican states get nothing.

    The president calls for more programs to help women enroll in and succeed in college. Women make up 60% of college students and graduates currently. Is the fact that women are one of his largest supporting groups the reason he thinks women should get MORE help?

    When a recession hits and the demographic hit worst by the recession is white males, the president makes a call for job programs for women and minorities.

    Now, this may not be a representative sample. This may all be misleading, but this is what I see in the news… the Obama-supporting news. It is difficult to think that MSNBC, CBS, the NYT, and others are setting the current administration to look like a group of liberal racists who only look out for their supporters. I wasn’t aware that all the mainstream news organizations were secretly controlled by the KKK, but from the above examples, it looks like it.

    Where are the examples of President Obama truly acting a president of all Americans? The incidents above highlight some very serious issues with major and far reaching consequences (employment and the extreme and growing gender gap in education), but the president can’t rise above partisan pressure and address them. In fact, he seems intent on exacerbating them. All the matters on race he has injected himself into were minor, but the effect has been to greatly worsen race relations. It will be ironic if the election of the first black President of the United States sets back race relations 20 years, but that is what seems to be happening and it is a terrible shame. The worst part is that it didn’t have to happen like this.

  4. deery

    “He has inserted himself into several local issues involving disputes between a black person and a white person (or a hispanic person he will consider white). When has he ever sided with the non-black person? ”

    Well, in Kanye v. Taylor Swift, he did call Kanye “a jackass”. I think that is something everyone can unite around.

    The “New” Black Panther Party is a joke, for all the outsize obsession over them, they seem to consist of five guys, hanging around wherever the media is, and making outageous statements to get some press. The original Black Panther’s deny them: . Two clowns hanging around a polling place, with a nightstick, and no person who states that he was tryng to vote but couldn’t because of them do not equal some sort of black conspiracy to keep down the white man, no matter how you twist it.

    The President’s remarks were measured, and did not condemn Zimmmerman, but instead called for a full investigation. I n the case cited above, it seems like the locus of the dispute happened because an argument about the basketball court and noise, not because of the Martin case. Even if someone yelled out something about Trayvon, it doesn’t seem, based on the facts descrbed, that was what casued the conflict. If someone yelled something about the victim’s momma, it also doesn’t mean that she is what caused the dispute. It’s a non-starter, and a reach, to try to get Trayvon Martin really involved in this case.

    • Walrus

      Priceless. Yes, the President did call Kanye out. And he nailed it. I bought Taylor Swift’s records after that in sympathy.

    • None of which is germane to my point. It was a race-based attack. The Martin case has intensified inter-racial unrest, because of rhetoric making Martin’s death appear like an instance of Jim Crow style Africa-0American hunting and killing, when there is no evidence to support that. The President made race—how Martin looked—central to his remarks. That is NOT “measured.” That was irresponsible, and acted to put him on the side of Sharpton,, Martin’s parents, and Spike Lee. Obama shares accountability for the racial tensions he helped stir up, and that easily may have contributed to what happened to Owen.

      • deery

        It doesn’t seem race-based, judging by the facts as you have presented them thus far. These people obviously had an on-going dispute of some sort, which doesn’t appear to be because of race (either a basketball dispute or some petty thefts). The victim was beat up because of these disputes. Even if someone said something about Trayvon Martin either during or after the beating, the Martin case doesn’t seem to be what caused the beating. So in that sense, it’s irrelevant, except for inflammatory purposes.

        The President didn’t focus on skin color, he called for a full investigation into the case, and urged people to wait on the facts. He noted that f he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, I think in a (failed) bid to try to humanize Trayvon, and make him more than just a black, thug male cutout that people were trying to portray him as.

  5. I heard Joe Biden say “If I had a son he would have looked like Mathew.”

  6. janpchapman

    There are a lot of differences between this case and the Trayvon Martin incident. The people involved had a history of animosity. Owens had a history of violent behavior and a criminal record. I don’t think being suspended from school and smoking weed is in the same league, therefore Owens’ record is relevant in this case. The facts are in dispute. I’ve read that someone invoked Trayvon as they were driving away, I’ve read that the person who said it wasn’t even there. Some sources say someone is “alleged” to have said it. To perpetuate rumor is irresponsible.

    To refresh everyone’s memory with respect to the President commenting, I’m sure he will if ASKED, just like he did with Trayvon. I can’t find anywhere that says Obama called the parents. Can you give us a source?

    • There are lots of differences; I don’t see how a victim’s past combativeness can justify or mitigate a mob beating, however. One difference is that a beating by a mob is always a crime, but Martin’s shooting may not have been. “Alleged” doesn’t mean rumor. The female witness says that the Trayvon reference was made. Absent a tape, that’s evidence to be rebutted, and a whole lot more substantive than assumptions that Martin was being profiled because he was black and Zimmerman wasn’t.

      Let’s see if anyone asks Obama about Owens. The mainstream media is largely burying the story.

      I had what I thought was a reliable source for Obama making a call, but like you, I can’t locate it now, so I deleted that reference. It didn’t belong anyway, since the post focuses on Obama’s race-oriented comments on Trayvon. Thanks, Jan.

      Just learned that Randi Rhodes, the former firebrand from Air America, linked to this post as a Wingnut blog post. Being critical of the President when he deserves it and not wanting to lynch George Zimmerman using bias flowing from elected officials and the media makes one a wingnut in Crazy Left World. Why are progressives invested in showing that Owens was not beaten by a mob of African Americans? Why do they want Martin to have been killed by a profiling racist? There’s a deep sickness there, and it’s a lot more serious than “wingnut.”

  7. Walrus

    Indeed. It seems that this story has not generated the attention the Trayvon Martin incident has; I wasn’t aware of it. Is it analogous? Have the police defended the attackers and declined to even arrest anyone? If not, what haven’t they arrested them? Have they said it would be a violation of “their” civil rights to do so? I don’t know the facts but I would like to. On the face of what you’ve reported the people who did this should be arrested and face justice (I can’t imagine the justification for it). If not, I am with you. All people should be outraged that the police let such people roam free. I’d be surprised if the State of Alabama found no basis to arrest the people who did this to a white man, just as the police in Florida stated they would not arrest Zimmerman for what he did to a black child. Will look into it.

    • janpchapman

      It would only take a little bit of research to find out that one of the attackers has already turned himself in. Jack is correct–nothing justifies this violent attack. However, no one can state with certainty the sequence of events. If you Google enough, some say Owens was armed with knives. Some say he repeatedly used the n-word. Some say Trayvon was invoked, some say he was not until after. To speculate is unethical. Everyone needs to take a step back until we find out what really happened.

    • The police didn’t charge Zimmerman because they didn’t have probable cause. Based on the prosecutor’s affidavit, they STILL don’t. That’s not a problem in the Alabama case. I see no indication that the police aren’t going to make arrests, but that’s not the basis for the comparison. One is a pretty apparent race-based crime; the other was ambiguous. Obama weighed in on the ambiguous one as if it was clearly racial, and now has simmering violence in the offing. Urging the people that “look like” him not to form mobs and put cranky white men in intensive care would seem to be prudent.

      • Walrus

        Which is the apparent race-based crime? I read up on the Mobile situation and it appears the beating was the result of Owens’ long running dispute with some of those involved. He apparently has threatened them with knives either inmediately prior to the incident or in the past. He’s also allegedly used racial slurs at these individuals or others in the community. None of this justifies a mob attack and beating him near senseless but I see no credible report that the attack was racially-motivated unless the attackers were angered by Owens’ slurs. I saw that his sister claims that at some point during or after the attack someone may have made a remark about Trayvon Martin but I see nothing that says they set upon Owens because of the case. Even by the sisters account it appears that Owens may have intervened when kids were stealing items from his neighbors and suffered retribution. Again, all inexcusable. Is the argument that these thugs would never had set upon Owens but for the Trayvon Martin case?

        Finally, a major difference in this case is that the police appear to be actively investigating and reaching out to federal authorities to investigate whether it was a hate crime. The Mobile leadership seems to be on top of it. They announced an arrest within four days and said others are likely.

      • Bill

        Lets assume this guy is the drunken racist idiot reports are describing him as and he pulled two knives and called a group of people a racist insult. Lets just assume that for a minute ok?

        Is anyone really surprised he got stomped ? Really?

        Yes its a crime that it happened to him but to be honest if he is as how he is being described then he is (a) a dumb racist idiot and (b) a front runner for a Darwin Award.

        • I don’t think that’s a fair assumption, at this point. The woman making those claims lives with the first guy arrested. Have you seen the video of her rant?

          • Bill

            No I will have to check that out.
            Maybe the word assume is the wrong word to use. What I meant to say was if he really was the person people are saying he is then he was an idiot.

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