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Fatal beating of WWII vet Delbert Belton spurs social media buzz

August 24, 2013|By Matt Hamilton
  • Lill Duncan takes a photo of a memorial for Delbert Belton, an 88-year-old World War II veteran who was beaten to death in Spokane, Wash.
Lill Duncan takes a photo of a memorial for Delbert Belton, an 88-year-old… (Tyler Tjomsland / AP )

Once again a crime has become a flash-point in the ongoing examination of the role of race and age in contemporary American society.

The victim this time was Delbert Belton, an 88-year-old World War II veteran who police say was beaten to death by two teenagers as he sat in his car outside an Eagles Lodge in Spokane, Wash.

On Thursday, news of Belton's death the day before had reached a few corners of the Internet.

By Friday, the tragedy had struck a national chord.

Drudge Report carried the the story at the top of its page. CNN’s Jake Tapper interviewed Belton’s daughter-in-law on "The Lead." The Fox News program "Special Report with Bret Baier" touted special coverage of Belton’s death.

News outlets also reported that a 16-year-old boy had been arrested in connection with the killing and that authorities were seeking a second boy, also 16.

And in multiple cities across the U.S., the hashtag #DelbertBelton was trending on Twitter.

The flurry of social media shares and conversations was significant in lifting the story from a local to a national scale.

One of the earliest – and most high-profile tweets regarding Belton’s death -- came from actor James Woods.

After coverage by national media outlets amped up, Woods thanked followers — and continued posting articles on Belton's killing, including a piece by Janna Brock that criticized the mainstream media for ignoring "the rampant, calculated attack on whites by blacks that have occurred recently."

Belton's killing prompted many comparisons to previous high-profile killings and responses to them, in particular, President Obama's response following the death of Trayvon Martin. 

Others noted the absence of civil rights activists' weighing in on Belton's death, implying hypocrisy or callousness on the part of the civil rights movement for neglecting to examine the circumstances surrounding the fatal beating.

Many tweets compressed animosity toward President Obama and admiration for Belton's military career in one tweet, with racial tension operating as a subtext.

Less dominant were observations that referenced the 72 years between the ages of the suspects and the victim — but the at-times folksy tweets about the paucity of respect for the aged was invoked as a sign of the times.

And less inflammatory — but no less present — were those who portrayed Belton's death as the fault of society writ-large, saying that the responsibility for the beating was collective.

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Twitter: @MattHjourno

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

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