Posts Tagged Rodney King

Don’t rush to judgment in Trayvon case? That’s moral cowardice – Leonard Pitts Jr. – MiamiHerald.com


Don’t rush to judgment in Trayvon case? That’s moral cowardice  

BY LEONARD PITTS JR.

LPITTS@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Once upon a time in the late ’90s, a certain black newswoman was awarded her own column. She wrote 12 pieces, three of them about race. That was too many for her boss, who told her to tone it down. Confused, she went to a white colleague for advice. He explained that, being black, she lacked the judgment to decide if a given racial matter merited a column. In the future, he suggested, if she saw some racial issue she thought worth writing about, she should bring it to him and let him decide.

That paternalistic offer is brought to mind by a recent on air statement from Tamara Holder, a contributor to Fox “News,” about the killing of Trayvon Martin. “The blacks,” she told Sean Hannity, “are making this more of a racial issue than it should be.”

One is reminded that the more things change, the more they don’t. One wonders how much of a racial issue Trayvon’s death should be, in Ms. Holder’s esteemed opinion.

There is a storyline coalescing here among conservative pundits. From Holder to Hannity to William Bennett to my colleague, Glenn Garvin, it says there’s been a “rush to judgment” against George Zimmerman, the man who stalked and killed an unarmed 17-year-old black kid he found suspicious.

Candidly, there is good reason to fear such a rush. Anyone who remembers the Tawana Brawley hoax and the Duke Lacrosse case, among others, knows many African Americans have proven prone to jumping to conclusions of racism even when the evidence thereof is dubious. Some black folks see racial mistreatment everywhere, always.

But some white folks see it nowhere — ever. That’s a corollary truth that seems apropos to this moment. Indeed, when a black man named Abner Louima was maimed in an act of broomstick sodomy by New York Police, Holder’s friend Hannity accused Louima of lying. Don’t rush to judgment, he warned.

For some people, that is less sage advice than default response. The Rodney King beating, said former Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates, “did look like racism,” but wasn’t. “This is not a racial issue,” said a school official in Louisiana after six black kids were charged with attempted murder for a schoolyard fight with a white classmate.

And so on.

There is a line — subjective but, there, just the same — between avoiding a rush to judgment and avoiding judgment itself. If rushing to judgment suggests a reflexiveness that ill serves the cause of justice, refusing to judge suggests a moral cowardice that does the same.

Where this case is concerned, it is telling that judgments made weeks after the fact are being called rushed. The rapid response nature of media being what it is, we make judgments everyday based on much less than five weeks of reflection. We do this on matters of economics, war, politics, scandal.

But, of course, race is different. It scares some of us, particularly when it requires them to concede the continued existence of injustices they would rather deny. They are aided in this denial by a naïve belief that a thing can’t truly be racist unless it is wearing a pointed hood or spouting epithets.

But racial bias is seldom so conveniently obvious. More often, it lurks behind smiles and handshakes, unknown sometimes even to its host. More often it is deduced, not declared, seen in excuses that don’t add up, justifications that make no sense, logic that is not.

As in Zimmerman’s decision to stalk Trayvon. Five weeks later, for all the back and forth, push and pull, no one has yet explained what the boy did that made him suspicious. Five weeks later, the initial conclusion still feels like the right one: Trayvon did not seem suspicious because of what he did but because of what he was.

So fine, let us not rush to judgment. But let’s not rush from it, either.

 Don’t rush to judgment in Trayvon case? That’s moral cowardice – Leonard Pitts Jr. – MiamiHerald.com.

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Playing the Violence Card – NYTimes.com


Playing the Violence Card

By KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD
Published: April 5, 2012

 

EVER since the culture wars of the 1980s, Americans have been familiar with “the race card” — an epithet used to discredit real and imagined cries of racism. Less familiar, however, is an equally cynical rhetorical tactic that I call “the violence card.”

 

Topos Graphics
 

Here’s how it works. When confronted with an instance of racially charged violence against a black person, a commentator draws attention to the fact that there is much more black-on-black violence than white-on-black violence. To play the violence card — as many criminal-justice advocates have done since the Rodney King police brutality case of the early 1990s — is to suggest that black people should worry more about the harm they do to themselves and less about how victimized they are by others.

The national outrage over the Trayvon Martin case has prompted some recent examples. Last week, the journalist Juan Williams wrote in The Wall Street Journal of the “tragedy” of Trayvon’s death but wondered “what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people.” During a debate about the case on Sunday on an ABC News program, the commentator George F. Will argued that the “root fact” is that “about 150 black men are killed every week in this country — and 94 percent of them by other black men.”

For Mr. Williams, Mr. Will and countless others playing the violence card, the real issue has little to do with racist fears or police practices — even though those would seem to be the very issues at hand.

It’s true that black-on-black violence is an exceptionally grave problem. But this does not explain the allure of the violence card, which perpetuates the reassuring notion that violence against black people is not society’s concern but rather a problem for black people to fix on their own. The implication is that the violence that afflicts black America reflects a failure of lower-class black culture, a breakdown of personal responsibility, a pathological trait of a criminally inclined subgroup — not a problem with social and institutional roots that needs to be addressed through collective effort well beyond the boundaries of black communities.

But perhaps the large scale of black-on-black violence justifies playing the violence card? Not if you recall how Americans responded to high levels of white-on-white violence in the past.

Consider the crime waves of 1890 to 1930, when millions of poor European immigrants came to America only to be trapped in inner-city slums, suffering the effects of severe economic inequality and social marginalization. Around the turn of the century, the Harvard economist William Ripley described the national scene: “The horde now descending upon our shores is densely ignorant, yet dull and superstitious withal; lawless, with a disposition to criminality.” But the solution, Ripley argued, was not stigma, isolation and the promotion of fear. “They are fellow passengers on our ship of state,” he wrote, “and the health of the nation depends upon the preservation of the vitality of the lower classes.”

As a spokesman for saving white immigrant communities from the violence within, Ripley was part of a national progressive movement led by Jane Addams, the influential social worker of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the face of grisly, gang-related youth shootings — “duplicated almost every morning,” Addams wrote — she insisted that everyone from the elite to community organizers to police officers had a part to play.

She and other progressives mobilized institutional resources to save killers and the future victims of killers. Violent white neighborhoods were flooded with social workers, police reformers and labor activists committed to creating better jobs and building a social welfare net. White-on-white violence fell slowly but steadily in proportion to economic development and crime prevention.

In almost every way the opposite situation applied to black Americans. Instead of provoking a steady dose of compassionate progressivism, crime and violence in black communities fueled the racist belief that, as numerous contemporaries stated, blacks were their “own worst enemies” — an early version of the violence card. Black people were “criminalized” through various institutions and practices, whether Southern chain gangs, prison farms, convict lease camps and lynching bees or Northern anti-black neighborhood violence and race riots.

Racial criminalization has continued to this day, stigmatizing black people as dangerous, legitimizing or excusing white-on-black violence, conflating crime and poverty with blackness, and perpetuating punitive notions of “justice” — vigilante violence, stop-and-frisk racial profiling and mass incarceration — as the only legitimate responses.

But the past does not have to be the future. The violence card is a cynical ploy that will only contribute to more fear, more black alienation and more violence. Rejecting its skewed logic and embracing a compassionate progressive solution for black crime is our best hope for saving lives and ensuring that young men like Trayvon Martin do not die in vain.

 Playing the Violence Card – NYTimes.com.

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