Among the most tragic cases we've ever reported -- and that's saying a lot -- is the one that sent John White, a 50-something black father, to prison for for second-degree manslaughter for killing a 17-year-old, unarmed white youth named Daniel Cicciaro.
Some are now comparing the John White case to the George Zimmerman case, suggesting that the cases are substantially similar with only the races of the killers and victims reversed. See here and here. In the Zimmerman case, a white man shot to death an unarmed black youth named Trayvon Martin; in the John White case, a black man shot to death an unarmed white youth. Both killings occurred in the midst of physical confrontations; in both cases, the killer had a right to be where he was.
At his trial, John White testified that late in the evening of August 9, 2006, his 19-year-old son, Aaron, woke him up to tell him that he had just come from a party where a young woman claimed he had threatened to rape her. Aaron told his father that a group of angry white youths were headed to their house to beat Aaron because they wrongly believed the young woman.
According to a news report: "Cicciaro Jr. and four friends descended on White's home to confront his teenage son because they were wrongly led to believe that in an online chat room Aaron had threatened their friend with rape. She later recanted the claim."
John White and his son walked to the end of their driveway to confront the youths, and in the heated confrontation that followed, young Mr. Cicciaro was killed. Mr. White claimed his gun accidentally discharged.
Mr. White said he considered the angry teenagers a “lynch mob.” He said their racist language recalled the hatred he saw as a child visiting the segregated Deep South and stories of his grandfather’s being chased out of Alabama in the 1920s by the Ku Klux Klan. He testified that his grandfather taught him how to shoot and bequeathed him the pistol he used.
The prosecutor acknowledged that the teenagers used epithets, but said that White fanned the gun menacingly at each teenager and that Daniel did not lunge, but rather defiantly slapped the gun away and was eventually shot point-blank in the face.
One boy is dead, and a father was imprisoned after a racially charged trial that divided a city. Eventually, New York's governor commuted Mr. White's sentence after he served five months.
We aren't sure if it is possible to assert that the George Zimmerman and John White cases are really mirror images of each other with the races of the principals reversed. Such comparisons make for interesting chat on the Internet, but fair-minded people know that every case is constructed of its own facts, which are complex and rarely interchangeable.
It is well to note this: if the Zimmerman case was the White case in reverse, then some prominent voices who are crying about the injustice to Trayvon Martin have much to answer for: the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, and others were at the forefront in denouncing the injustice of the jury's decision in the White case. If the cases truly are mirror images, then those same voices should be proclaiming that the Zimmerman jury got it right, not that there was an injustice to Trayvon Martin. They can't have it both ways.
In any event, the White case was tragic on a host of levels. One boy is dead, and a father was imprisoned after a racially charged trial that divided a city. We have often cited the Cicciaro-White confrontation as an example of an unfortunate trait of masculinity -- a trait far more prominent than any urge to rape or to excuse rape: men and boys are prone to overreact, with violence and rage, to even unsubstantiated claims of rape. One need not look to the hanging trees of the Old South for evidence of this, there are innumerable recent cases of such overreaction.