The controversial July 6 Inglewood arrest of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson occurred only a few blocks away from the tragic July 4 shootings at Los Angeles International Airport, but a vast gap separated the media and governmental handling of the two incidents.

The rough police treatment of Mr. Jackson continues to dominate television news broadcasts and sparked major investigations by the Justice Department, the FBI and a half dozen California agencies. Meanwhile, the fatal shootings by a heavily-armed Egyptian national at the El Al ticket counter quickly disappeared as a subject of media discussion while public officials insist that it represented only an isolated crime.

On many levels, this disproportionate focus on the Jackson case makes no sense. The airport incident claimed two innocent lives, with the cold-blooded murder of the sort of sympathetic victims that journalists usually love – one of them the religiously devout father of eight children (with a ninth on the way), and the other a pretty, idealistic 25-year-old ticket agent. By contrast, no one died in the Jackson incident – nor did anyone sustain serious injury. After the Inglewood officers slammed the young man onto the surface of their cop car, and gratuitously punched him in the face, he received brief medical attention but quickly returned home to confer with his lawyers in preparing their “seven figure” lawsuit.

One explanation for the enduring fascination with the Inglewood arrest involves the presence of dramatic videotape. Yet the normal desire to exploit this gripping footage can’t explain the most glaring contrast in the reaction to the two assaults: the instant willingness to impute racial motives to Inglewood cops, and the stubborn refusal to associate such motives with the airport shooter, Hesham Mohammed Hadayet. Demonstrators, politicians and pundits instinctively accuse embattled police officers of racism, while some of the same leaders deny the existence of conclusive evidence that the airport shootings represented a terrorist incident or even a “hate crime.”

The stupidity behind this double standard reflects the corruption and distortion of our national discourse. The evidence for racial bias in the Jackson case remains flimsy or non-existent, and of the four Inglewood police officers on the scene, three represented ethnic minorities – one black, one Latino and one Islamic-American. Most importantly, there is a ready-to-hand alternate explanation for the police cruelty to Donovan Jackson: according to officers and additional sheriff’s deputies who witnessed the event, he resisted arrest and struggled with the police before they succeeded in handcuffing him.

In the case of the dead airport murderer Hadayet, on the other hand, there is abundant evidence of racial and religious hatred, and no alternate explanation for his bloody rampage. Former employees of Hadayet’s limousine service reported that he spoke frequently of his rage at Israel, and his conviction that Jewish prostitutes deliberately infected Egyptians with AIDS. He voiced his objections to the manager of his apartment building over a neighbor who displayed an American flag and a Marine Corps banner after Sept. 11. Before departing on his deadly errand, he placed a bumper sticker urging “Read the Koran” on his mailbox, and some eyewitnesses heard him shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” or “God is Great,” as he began firing at his Jewish victims. Most notably, he targeted the obscure ticket counter of the world’s only Israeli airline in the midst of a vast airport that handles more than a hundred carriers. Nevertheless, elite opinion-makers caution against “jumping to conclusions” in assuming that ethnic animosity helped motivate the murderer.

This blindness reflects the obvious agenda of the “enlightened” establishment. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, our leaders expressed grave (and, fortunately, unfounded) worries that Americans would persecute and abuse their Muslim neighbors. In order to discourage such bigotry, we are all supposed to focus on Arab Americans as the victims, not the perpetrators, of hate crimes. The example of Mr. Hadayet inconveniently undermines these priorities, and proves an uncomfortable subject for public discussion.

As for Mr. Jackson, the inflammatory factor of race most certainly played a role in his case – but more obviously in the reaction of the media than in the cruelty of the cops. Had a 16-year-old white boy been slammed against a police car, it’s hard to imagine that the incident would have provoked hysterical overreactions and become a national sensation. Police records show plentiful instances of alarming brutality against white suspects, but can anyone recall a single instance in which such treatment became a major issue?

When the racial identity of a victim – or a perpetrator, in the case of Mr. Hadayet – trumps all other factors in shaping public reaction to a shocking incident, there is a name for that response. It’s called racism.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.