01 Feb 2004 Looking for Mr. Tate, by Darryn “Dutch” Martin
Lionel Tate, the 12-year-old Florida boy who killed six-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick, has been released from prison. He had been convicted of first-degree murder for what he said was an accident that happened while he was mimicking professional wrestling moves he saw on television. In the Sunshine State, such a conviction carries a penalty of life without parole – even, in this case, for a pre-teen like Tate.
After serving three years in a juvenile prison, however, Tate was released on a technicality. In agreeing to plead guilty to second-degree murder, he will now serve a year of house arrest, ten years of probation, receive counseling and perform 1,000 hours of community service.
In coverage of the Tate ordeal, the media gave ample face time to mothers Kathleen Grossett-Tate and Deweese Eunick-Paul. But there was a glaring omission in the news coverage that deserves attention. Lionel Tate’s father was absent.
I was able to find two – but only two – articles mentioning Lionel’s father. In a March 24, 2001 CNN.com article, John Tate – who has been divorced from his son’s mother for several years – acknowledged his son needed to be punished. He believed, however, that a life sentence was too harsh. A January 25, 2004 Miami Herald article devotes only one sentence to the father, not even mentioning him by name: “Tate’s father, a Mississippi factory worker, has been an intermittent presence in his son’s life, at best, and has been largely absent as others fought publicly for Lionel Tate’s freedom, including ministers who have volunteered to mentor Tate when he leaves jail (emphasis added).”
This case involves a single-parent household, a troubled boy and the reality that the environment in which Lionel Tate was raised was undoubtedly a factor in how he came about bringing fatal harm to Tiffany Eunick. And this is not an isolated case, albeit perhaps the most extreme example. John Tate’s “intermittent presence in his son’s life” is arguably the most important element in the Lionel Tate story, and I find it infuriating that the press has not zeroed in on it.
The general public’s belief in the media’s reflexive impulse to pander to political correctness has been well documented by best-selling authors such as Bernard Goldberg, Ann Coulter and William McGowan. In Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism, McGowan brilliantly points out how major news organizations will either downplay or simply avoid reporting on such topics as black-on-black crime and black single-parent households so as not to “unfairly stereotype” minorities.
Save for the two aforementioned articles, the media’s blatant omission of any mention of Tate’s father’s absence in his life not only advances the perception of black people as helpless victims not to be held responsible for their actions – an unfair and racist stereotype in itself – but it also further erodes the credibility of professional journalism.
It’s a proven fact that children raised in stable two-parent families are far less likely to become criminals. This is especially true for black children, one of the most vulnerable segments of American society.
Lionel Tate will have to live with the death of a six-year-old child on his conscience for the rest of his life. While there are no guarantees, it is far less likely that this would be the case had his father been in the picture – a fact that John Tate himself must deal with.
What does it say about a man who has sat on the sidelines for the past three years, while “others fought publicly” on his son’s behalf? It’s a shame the media won’t write that story.