NEWBERRY, S.C. — Before dawn on June 2, law enforcement officials here say, a white man shot and killed a black co-worker at close range. Then, he tied his body to the back of a truck and dragged it for nearly 11 miles before the rope broke, leaving the mangled corpse of the victim, Anthony Hill, on a bloody patch of road.
Malik Zulu Shabazz, president of the New Black Panther Party, called for the death of Mr. Hill to be classified as a hate crime.
On Saturday, black-clad members of the national New Black Panther Party marched to the courthouse steps to demand that the case be classified as a hate crime.
All that seems fairly straightforward, even par for the course. But on close examination, this story unfolds like origami in reverse, saying less about racism in the South than about the fraught posturing of the summer’s raging national conversation on race.
“We keep finding these surrogates and calling them a racial dialogue, but instead it’s just drama without a substantive discussion,” said Susan M. Glisson, the director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Oxford, Miss. “It’s like that old saying, ‘You shed more heat than light.’ ”
In recent days, the New Black Panthers have been at the center of an unrelated furor over what conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin say is reverse racism in the Obama administration. And the New Black Panther Party is itself a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even Bobby Seale, a leader of the original Black Panther Party of the 1960s, has called it “a black racist hate group” that is usurping the original Panther name.
Here in Newberry, a town better known for its college and its opera house in what was once the egg-and-dairy capital of South Carolina, the sight of beret-topped men with walkie-talkies and “black power” placards attracted curious spectators.
“It’s really interesting that there’s a hate group taking a position on calling something a hate crime,” said Rebecca Smith, a white retired auctioneer who sat with her husband on the sidewalk in front of their house, watching the march go by. “They kind of cancel each other out.”
The march and demonstration attracted several hundred of Newberry’s black residents, who pumped their fists in the air and agreed to support the group’s seven demands, including justice for Mr. Hill, reparations for slavery and “self-improvement in the black community.”
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