Richard Cohen is cutting edge for 1988. In fact, a huge amount of the op-ed crap published by Fred Hiatt appears to be frozen from the time liberals decided it was time to move to the center-right. I think they were as right to do so in the late 1980s as they are wrong to cling to that position as if it is embalmed in aspic today.
So Cohen describes what he calls a “uniform” that young black men wear that legitimately causes fear among whites (and presumably blacks too). For twenty years, as I wrote earlier, I lived on a crime-charged corner in DC, where the 17th and Euclid gang still operates (and I hope to return). For the first ten years, it was sometimes hard to get people to visit me (not that I did much entertaining). And they weren’t crazy. It was a crime-ridden hood. I lived through several murders on my block, a dead body found in my alley way, and a bullet that came through my upstairs neighbor’s window.
But I honestly never felt any real fear simply being around young black men in the hood. And I still don’t. Yes, if I saw drug deals from my window, I took pictures in case the police needed help. Yes, I could see that most of the miscreants were black men – but that could have been said of my neighbors who played basketball, or hung out on the local stoops. I lived by minding my own business, something Zimmerman could have done as well.
I think it may be the fact that I wasn’t born or raised in America; or obliviousness; or a simple, growing awareness of how many young black men are in no way related to that kind of violence – because I lived among them; or aware that I was a familiar face and so in no way a threat. But I never felt fear. Hoodies were not a “uniform”, either, unless there’s been a fashion craze since I left for New York. What Richard Cohen is describing in his attempt at political incorrectness is a vision in his own head that equates all young black men he may come across with the potential to kill. I can’t think of a word to describe lumping everyone of a certain race, gender and clothing into a category of potential murderers other than, yes, racist. Can you?
There’s no question that young urban black men commit a disproportionate number of crimes, compared, say, with young white men.
If you look at homicide, you’ll see, however, that a white person is far, far more likely to be killed by another white person than by a black one. 83 percent of white murders were committed by whites. In 2011, only 448 black men killed a white person in America. In a country of 300 million, that means that Richard Cohen’s fear of the young black men is as unjustified as Zimmerman’s description of Martin as a punk. The percentage odds of Richard Cohen being killed by a young black man is 0.00015 percent. And yet he’s scared. I guess it’s clarifying to have this fact of human nature expressed in a column. But it doesn’t make it any less repugnant.
“Urban crime” is shorthand for young black people committing crimes in big cities on the verge of collapse. But Martin wasn’t killed in Cabrini-Green. He was killed in Sanford, Florida (population 53,570), inside a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which has about 260 townhouses. The alleged crime was a suburban crime. And, just for the record, it was not the black kid who was just acquitted of it.
(Photo-image by from the Tumblr “While Seated” by Michael David Murphy.)