A black male murdered a white male – a former quarterback at Penn State – in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia NAACP is doing everything possible to explain away the racial aspect of the homicide.[Race an issue in fatal Rittenhouse Square stabbing, The Philadelphia Tribune, 7-20-18]:
Local NAACP President Minister Rodney Muhammad is among those supporters speaking for Michael White’s family in the recent fatal stabbing of real estate developer Sean M. Schellenger in Rittenhouse Square.
Muhammad has been attacked by some who have suggested he and others are injecting race into an issue where it does not belong.
Schellenger, the victim is white; White, the suspect is Black.
“We are talking because we want to make sure that race and class don’t overpower the truth and due process for Michael White.” he said. “This is a tragedy. But so far the coverage of it has seen people talking about how wonderful a person Sean Shellenger was because he was trying to help rebuild the inner city. That’s commendable. And it sends the message, “why would somebody want to kill him?”
We want people to know that Michael White is also a very good person.”
Local radio broadcaster Denise Clay first heard about the tragic stabbing death of Schellenger on two separate local newscasts. However, she had to do a double take because each broadcast, on different stations, described the alleged murder so differently.
“In one story, Michael White was a student who turned himself in to police,” said Clay, a co-host on Mark and Denise in the Mornings on WWDB-AM. “In the other, he was a suspect.”
White is a 20-year-old African American poet, recent college student, who was working as a bicycle courier eight days ago, who is now accused of stabbing Schellenger, 37, a former college football player who has been described as a rising star developer in the city.
In a city experiencing a spike in homicides for a second-consecutive year, this would seem like just another unfortunate homicide.
Since Clay first heard about the incident that occurred on July 12 just before 11 p.m. at 17th and Chancellor streets, she said the media coverage has been mostly even other than the news accounts she initially heard.
Clay is keeping an eye on the high-profile case in which the story is murky – both sides maintain that the other was the aggressor – and being mindful of the role that coverage slanted one way or the other could make assembling an unbiased jury difficult. White will make his first appearance in court the morning of Aug. 1
“How this is covered in the media is going to play a big part in what that jury looks like and what it does once it is selected,” Clay said. “If you go in there thinking that you are dealing with two people of equal value, a developer and a college student, you have a better shot of getting a fair verdict than if you go in there and you are dealing with two people of unequal value — a developer and some kid off the street, or some thug.”
While noting the differences in White’s portrayal by the two televisions stations, Clay pointed out journalists of color have an obligation to not give into biases they may have.
“We are going to have to resist looking at Michael White and seeing a little brother, nephew, or our best friend’s son – we can’t root for him,” she said. “If you root for him in the privacy of your own home that’s one thing. But you can’t root for him on the pages of your newspaper or as part of your television coverage.”
Most homicides across the United States, no matter where they take place, overwhelmingly involve people who live near one another, share the same race and usually the same socio-economic status. While most of this is not true with White and Shellenger, one commonality is that both have had previous run-ins with the law.
In August of 2001, Schellenger was charged in Chester County with burglary, resisting arrest, criminal trespassing, and theft; the final settlement of that case was unavailable. In 2008, he was charged in Okaloosa County, Fla., with battery and resisting detention but the charges were dropped. In 2009, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct in Chester County.
White was charged with possession of marijuana, theft, receiving stolen property, possession of an instrument of crime with intent to employ it criminally, and conspiracy last November.
As a result, this past January he was ordered to pay fines and complete community service.
But it is the differences, more than anything else, that have caused this case to be peculiar to people such as Temple professor Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve.
A scholar of race, law and criminal justice, Van Cleve calls the case an “outlier” because it crosses so many preconceptions that people have about race and class in a city that is ethnically diverse, highly segregated and crushed by poverty.
“It’s a situation where the race of the defendant can inflame people that have prejudices about an entire race of people,” Van Cleve said. “If you see Black and Brown people as being more prone to violence but do not see the circumstances in which Black and Latino people live you can fall into the dangerous trap of associating one act with an entire race, which is problematic.”
Conflicting accounts have emerged.
Greg Thompson, a spokesman for White’s family, maintains that Schellenger was the aggressor; that he tackled White at some point and that White was acting in self defense.
Thompson has said Schellenger and two other friends with him, Uri Jacobson and Norris Jordan, were drunk, a claim that has been denied. Police say that White injected himself into an already-started argument at 17th and Chancellor streets and a fight between the two ensued.
It’s alleged White pulled a knife from his backpack and stabbed Schellenger in the back. Shortly thereafter, Shellenger was transported to nearby Thomas Jefferson Hospital, where he died.
“With this case I hope people will pause and see the tragedy that is happening on both sides,” Van Cleve said. “There are such outliers in this case. The person charged here seemed to be doing the right things with his life – working, poetry, going to college to improve himself. Something had to happen that really provoked him. We just don’t know what.”
None of the aforementioned story matters in the end. Sean Schellenger is dead, just another white man murdered by a black man in the USA.
Well, one important point from the story does matter: the black racial advocacy group the NAACP is committed to defending the black murderer and doing whatever is necessary to paint the white victim as the aggressor and villain in the story.