Eugene Robinson [“Denied the right to be young”] and Richard Cohen [“Black-and-white reality”] had vastly different responses [op-ed, July 16] to the George Zimmerman fiasco. Mr. Robinson’s was a clear-eyed, tragic assessment of the irrefutable “stacked deck” that black boys face in the United States. Mr. Cohen’s was a myopic distortion that flirted with racism.
Mr. Robinson succinctly laid out the facts. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old, was profiled and presumed guilty by Mr. Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman. Mr. Zimmerman, who was armed, chose to follow the child against the recommendation of the police, triggering a physical altercation that ended with Mr. Martin shot dead.
Ann Telnaes animation: The cowboy attitude of “stand your ground” laws.
Mr. Cohen, in contrast, described Mr. Martin as “wearing a uniform we all recognize.” A hoodie? Black skin? Both? Conspicuously absent in this tragic altercation was a uniform all parties would have recognized — one worn by a police officer. And therein lies the problem. Mr. Zimmerman is not the law. He is not a police officer. But he was armed — with a handgun, a prejudice and very bad judgment. He profiled, he followed, he engaged. But, according to Mr. Cohen, we’re supposed to “understand why Zimmerman was suspicious.” That viewpoint is repugnant.
Mark Charles Heidinger, Alexandria
Eugene Robinson wrote: “Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance.” If anyone doubted the truth of these words, all he or she had to do was read Richard Cohen’s words right below. Mr. Cohen, as white people have been doing for hundreds of years, deflected attention from our own prejudices by telling us that fear and denigration of black boys and men are reasonable.
There is tragedy here — enough to sully our justice system with “stand your ground” laws that legalize killing an unarmed teenager, enough to instill terror in black youths and adults for walking to the store while black. And it is a tragedy that we white people refuse to admit that we enable racism and injustice by refusing to acknowledge that prejudice exists in our justice system and in ourselves.
Edith Williams, Columbia
Richard Cohen’s column overlooked a critical element of the race discussion: hypocrisy. Why is it “understandable” to profile a black youth but a “mindless” allegation to claim racism? Profiling children based on their skin color naturally leads to allegations of racism. Mr. Cohen would do well to add depth and context to his next op-ed.
Joshua Q. White, Washington
As justification for George Zimmerman’s supposed fear and pursuit of Trayvon Martin, Richard Cohen cited President Obama’s reference to his grandmother as “a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street.” The president’s grandmother may have crossed the street to avoid encountering men she feared, but to our knowledge she never pulled a gun or shot any of them. We are all entitled to our fears, rational or irrational, but they are not a license to kill.