NYC City Council, hoodie-clad (William Alatriste/AP Photo)
A hoodie-clad crowd protests at the New York City Council. (William Alatriste/Associated Press Photo)

Of all the sad elements of the story of Trayvon Martin’s death, Richard Cohen writes, one is the reasonableness of George Zimmerman’s fears of a young black man who seems out of place. Martin’s hoodie and his demographics, Cohen says, made him suspicious because young black men in hoodies commit more crimes, proportionally, than most other groups in other clothing.

The reactive discussion in the comments boils down to whether or not it is reasonable or morally okay to be suspicious of any young black man in a hoodie. In Zimmerman’s case, the neighborhood had been recently burglarized, reportedly, by black men; is it then either logical or morally abhorrent — or somewhere in between — for Zimmerman to have called the police upon seeing a young black man in the neighborhood?

Essentially, is it abhorrent to use statistics, whatever they are, to justify an obviously racist policy? Does it really matter, for example, whether gypsies/Roma might have actually been disorderly and spreading disease in any discussion of how they were profiled, harassed and persecuted by the Nazis in 1934?

astrosmylz has statistics suggesting that it should be whites who get profiled for violent crimes:

Whites commit more crimes than Blacks. Yes, even more violent ones. Check it out for yourself:

Which Peter225 objects to, because proportionally blacks commit many more crimes:

Blacks only make up 12% of the population, Einstein.

astrosmylz says that doesn’t matter–if we are on the lookout for violent criminals, we’re looking for more white people than black:

Peter, doesn’t matter. If whites commit more crimes — even more violent ones — than blacks, so Mr. Cohen’s premise is wrong on its face.

jklo has another instance in which profiling could be appropriate:

Not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are Muslim.

Cartmaneric says to take a look at unsafe neighborhoods:

NO ONE wants to be in the ATL, B-More, Little Rock, St. Louis, Detroit, Oakland, Hartford, Newark or about twenty other cities past 7pm. And it isn’t because of all the unicorns and wish-granting fairies and happy, welcoming people. And it isn’t because they are worried a George Zimmerman might be out there.

Gaius_Gracchus suggests three new rules to help people survive out there:

First off because of crime stats it is perfectly reasonable for people of all races to fear young black men. Next point is that if you are afraid of a situation you go away from it not toward it. Third, do not attack people… they may be armed. OK?

jrmelchi argues that there are very, very good reasons why societies invest in trained police forces rather than relying on vigilantes:

Zimmerman was not a police officer. He does not work in dealing with these complexities, and he displayed a gross neglect of judgment in handling of the situation. And that led to Trayvon’s death. And it was due to racist profiling from someone who is uneducated on judging the difference between skin color/style/culture and criminal intent. And in my opinion, Cohen is equally ignorant in ability to judge the difference. It is not acceptable to speak, write or behave as an expert on the issue if you clearly are not.

laniyoung has a personal story of being profiled and argues that this case is not about the criminality of young black men, since the only young black man is the victim:

I’m a black female, masters educated, great job, etc. I tell you that because it matters where you come from to understand people’s perspective. I understand where Mr. Cohen comes from because I have had to immerse myself in predominately middle and higher class white America to make a career for myself and I enjoy my life very much. What I would like Mr. Cohen to do and others who don’t seem to understand where many black kids come from is to try and educate yourself to gain some perspective. I didn’t always have money and grew up around people from ALL walks of life and I am a better person for it. I know when to cross the street because I sense danger. I am pretty good at determining the black man in pradas and a Gauthier hoodie means me no harm. It would do Mr. Cohen some good to expand his experiences of black America. But he is right there are a disproportionate number of black perpetrators but he fails to mention they are usually in certain neighborhoods. So while I think we should have a discussion on black crime in this country I couldn’t disagree more that this is the case that should spur that. Mr. Zimmerman wrongly accused a boy, sought out said boy, was probably beat up by said boy, and then shot the boy. This case is about a white man who killed a black teenager. So not really a black crime Mr. Cohen. Let’s leave that for another day.

deloresclaiborne1 has a personal, local story of being profiled as well:

Mr. Cohen’s article reminds me of an incident that occurred the summer of 1968. As I was walking to my job as an operator with the telephone company located at 14th and R, NW, a group of white men drove by and wanted to know how much I wanted for sex acts. I was dressed appropriately for my job, but I was in a location where prostitutes congregated. Since the majority of the working women were black, of course, I had to be one too. They did not see me as having a “legitimate” job. I was black and walking on 14th St, thus I invited the insult. May I add that this was the summer of my junior year in college, a private college not located in the district.
It should be noted that the prostitutes working on 14th street were both black and white, but these men did not make assumptions about white pedestrians. Maybe Mr. Cohen was one of guys in that car.

ThanksForTheFish says the men in the car who bothered deloresclaiborne1 were reasonable in their assumptions, if you consider having black skin to be as meaningful a signifier as wearing a leather jacket in a motorcycle bar:

Society has evolved in the 40+ years since your story occurred. But let’s look at your “insult.” If I dressed in a leather jacket, walked out of a bar known for being frequented by Hell’s Angels, and got on a motorcycle, wouldn’t it be reasonable to think I might be one?

deloresclaiborne1 does not, however, consider having black skin to be as dispositive as leather jackets and motorcycles:

Yes, if anyone walked out a bar dressed liked a Hell’s Angels, it would be reasonable. But if you were dressed in khakis and a shirt is the assumption correct? My dress was appropriate, very modest. So yeah, it was an insult. But more to the point, your mind could not conceive that I would not be dressed like a prostitute, so I invited the insult. Why is that?

And exbrown says that being profiled negatively and often has an impact on a person that it’s hard for people not in that situation to understand:

When I was in my twenties I had a master’s degree in art. My favorite poet was Baudelaire and after reading Nietzsche I went on to read translations of Goethe and Schopenhauer. My favorite film directors were Kurosawa and Tarkovsky. I was educated and cultured. Not a thug. I did not look like a thug. But I was a young black man so I was seen as a criminal. I have had white people cross the street when I approached. During my college years I tried pot twice. Many of my white college friends smoke pot regularly, dropped acid, and at least one went on to try cocaine. None of them were ever stopped by the police, frisked, and questioned on the streets like I have been. It is humiliating and degrading. Mr. Cohen seems to think it is okay but I suspect, like my college friends, neither he nor his family members have ever been racially profiled by the police and searched for weapons or drugs while walking down M Street in Georgetown on a Friday night. Mr. Cohen gets to be judged as an individual while I am assumed to be part of a criminal class until demonstrated otherwise.