White Criminals as Celebrities?

There seem to be a number of white criminals in the news just in these last few days, but no mainstream media analysts or politicians are discussing the “problem of white crime” these days.

There is the “image makeover” of the serial murderer, David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), who killed six people and injured seven others. Now serving a 25-year-to-life sentence, he has attracted numerous, apparently mostly white, friends:

from outside prison who, though they deplore his murderous past, have become friends, acquaintances and in some instances a kind of ad hoc set of assistants. This circle of admirers, to a great degree, is made up of evangelical Christians, including a Town and Village Courts judge in upstate New York and a financial adviser in Manhattan, who have been moved by Mr. Berkowitz’s story of becoming a born-again Christian 23 years ago, and many of them have sought to publicize his account of redemption.

How many people of color put into prisons, including many who are eventually shown to be innocent or become converted, get this kind of attention and favorable public support?

Perhaps the most unusual of these white criminals is the “barefoot burglar,” Colton Harris-Moore, of Washington state. He has been on the run from the police over two years because of numerous burglaries, car, boat, and airplane thefts:

After fleeing a Washington halfway house in 2008, his run from the law took him across the country, including an alleged 1,000-mile flight from Indiana to Florida in a stolen airplane.

As one of our readers (thanks, Benjamin)–who pointed this story out to us—has noted: white privilege is written all over this story. How did he go so long and do so much criminal activity without being discovered? White privilege.

Now he is a celebrity with no fewer than 58,000 fans on his Facebook page. His story is being treated as a “human interest” story by the media and lots of Americans:

Moore’s story has captured the interest of tens of thousands on, many of them now offering encouragement, praise and advice. He’s also got a fan page on the Internet, which sells T-shirts with his face on them and is taking donations for a Colton Harris-Moore defense fund. . . . it’s easy to see why Harris-Moore, a tall, lanky, regular-looking kid, has garnered so much attention. While it’s yet to be seen how he will fare in court, there’s doubtless a book/movie deal in store somewhere down the line.

Apparently, a relative is lining up such a deal now. “Regular-looking kid” also seems to be code for “white kid” in some mainstream media analyses. Youth of color almost never get this kind of treatment. Black and Latino teenagers routinely get picked up and sent away to prison for many years for doing much less in the way of law violations than this young white man.

How often do youth of color get such beneficial mainstream media coverage and widespread sympathy for their exploits and difficult home conditions? Instead, as the experienced legal scholar and prisons specialist Michelle Alexander shows, they have gotten a new institutionalized Jim Crow prison system designed to imprison many youth of color for law violations that many similar white law violators do not even go to prison for.