Archives For: Trayvon

A reader complements McWhorter’s point:

It isn’t just that there is no one new to be the new Jackson and Sharpton; it’s that there isn’t a new community to lead. On the positive side, there isn’t a standard issue black community anymore. Maybe there never was, but there are now black children of privilege, black hipsters, blerds, etc. – all who identify with another group before they identify as black. The segregation in our society is more economic than it is racial. Poor, uneducated whites don’t really have it any easier than poor, uneducated blacks or Hispanics. There is nobody to come to the defense of the poor (no matter what the facts of any given situation are) in this country like Jackson and Sharpton did for African-Americans. The issues are more complex, and Jackson and Sharpton’s message has always been awfully simplistic. I don’t know if there CAN be a new one of them.

On the negative side, racism is a lot more sneaky then it used to be. Drug policy is perhaps the number one way the government is racist, and who stands up for that? The country as a whole just won’t open their eyes to that problem for myriad reasons.

A word from the great president:

Abraham Lincoln discussed this romanticization of violence in 1838, in one of his earliest public speeches, “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.” What, Lincoln asked, threatened the well-being of American democracy? Only one thing: vigilante violence, “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” He detailed the epidemic of violence and then located its cause in the need for what we would now call identity politics. Constitutional institutions might be equitable, but they were not lacking in (and it’s striking that Lincoln used exactly this word) “authenticity”—the dry, rational legal system that the revolution had insured could never satisfy Americans’ need for an emotional connection with the past and with each other.

Lincoln’s own call, in response, was for an ever more radical rationalism: “Reason, cold calculating unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.”

As Adam Gopnik notes, Lincoln even cast the Civil War as the defense of the arid, legal principle that the Union was indissoluble – not a matter of honor or pride or culture. And that, of course, was his key difference with the dueling, honor-driven culture of the South (and Wild West). Adam Cohen also helpfully contrasts English and American self-defense laws:

Nearly 250 years ago, William Blackstone included in his classic Commentaries on the Laws of England a well-established rule: “[T]o excuse homicide by the plea of self defense, it must appear that the slayer had no other possible means of escaping from his assailant.” Sir Blackstone understood why people should be required to retreat before using deadly force: “the right to defend,” he warned, “may be mistaken as the right to kill.” …

[In contrast,] [i]n 1921, in Brown v. United States, the Supreme Court rejected the obligation to retreat. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the author of the decision, later explained: “a man is not born to run away.”

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More readers talk about overcoming their discomfort of neighbors of a different race:

I’d like to add my $.02 to the thread, from personal experience. Years ago, I was assaulted in my apartment in L.A. At least ten of my white friends either assumed or asked if my attacker was black. I told them no – the only black guy around was my big, scary-looking neighbor who rushed to my rescue when he heard me screaming. When the attacker was caught, he turned out to be (a) a serial rapist, suspected in hundreds of crimes and (b) a white, married Mormon. I hadn’t thought much about racism up to that time, but the lesson couldn’t have been more clear, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Another reader:

A few years ago, I lived in and around NYC jumping from sublet to sublet with two travel suitcases and one condition: $500 rent. This brought me to a plethora of places I had never experienced in college: Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, etc. And my Mom was terrified. And honestly, I was too. A child of the ’80s, I had grown up with the firmly held belief that New York was a war zone. This was on top of the fact that I lived in closet spaces that had a curtain (or hung up sheet) in place of a door.

But money was tight, so I just buckled up. And after a few months, it barely even registered. I felt safe – safer than I had ever been. At first, I wrote my parents off as paranoid, but over time I began to realize that things just used to be a lot worse.

Having said that, I’ve never erased the dread that seeps in when I find myself on an empty street – late at night – with a stranger my brain identifies as poor, male, and non-white. But there’s a difference between having that fear and acting on it – and certainly institutionalizing it. I could concede to Cohen that his idealized version of racial profiling could reduce even more crime, but like terrorism, there is a point where pure, practical security infringes upon liberty and justice for all.


I currently live in Crown Heights, a notable, new and exciting (and “gentrifying” – wink, wink) part of Brooklyn.

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A must-read from Conor.

The Story Of “Nigger Jeff”

Jul 18 2013 @ 11:40am


Alan Jacobs tells it:

All I can say in my defense is that I never hurled a stone at him, or shouted abuse. But I stood by, many a time, as others did those things, and I neither walked away nor averted my eyes. I never held anyone’s cloak, but then I was never asked to. I watched it all, gripping a rock in my hand as though I were preparing to use it — so that no one would turn on me with anger or contempt — and I always stood a little behind them so they couldn’t see that I wasn’t throwing anything. I was smaller and younger than the rest of them, and they were smaller and younger than him. In my memory he seems almost a full-grown man; I suppose he was eleven or twelve.

We called him Nigger Jeff. I have never doubted that Jeff was indeed his name, though as I write this account I find myself asking, for the first time, how we could have known: I never heard any of the boys speak to him except in cries of hatred, and I never knew anyone else who knew him. It occurs to me now that, if his name was Jeff, there had to have been at least a brief moment of human contact and exchange — perhaps not even involving Jeff, perhaps one of the boys’ mothers talked to Jeff’s mother. But we grasp what’s available for support or stability. It’s bad to call a boy Nigger Jeff, but worse still to call him just Nigger. A name counts for something.

Continued here. Update from a reader:

I read the story about “Nigger Jeff” and it brought back a memory from almost 62 years ago.

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No one:

[T]here are not, and never have been, any new versions of the old Jesse and Al. Not a single young preacher or politician has even started to acquire national influence by taking a page from their old playbooks. The times have changed. If the more pessimistic strains in black America can be slow to fully acknowledge progress, we can take heart from the fact that Al Sharpton will be 60 next year, and a young version of his young self is now inconceivable as a national figure.

A reader writes:

Your comments struck a chord with me, because it really does seem that a lot of older white folks are stuck in the ’80s. I’m a young white guy living in DC, and every time I go home for the holidays or a party with extended family, after the usual small talk it always comes up: “How do you deal with the crime?” It’s honestly a question that drives me crazy. I’ve lived here five years and all I’ve ever witnessed is someone stealing something from CVS. I do know of friends of friends who have been mugged and such, but still … it’s far from a war zone. When I commented that I had recently moved to nearby Arlington, they said, “Well, of course – I mean, you can’t live in DC, really.” It’s apparent to me that despite my denials, my aunts and uncles are convinced that DC and other urban areas of the US are something akin to Baghdad. They just don’t seem to believe me when I tell them that, yes, there are a lot of black men around (“sketchy people”, in their words), and, no, they do not bother me. They are convinced there is mortal danger around every corner, just like Richard Cohen is.

Another DC resident:

Just this morning I reflected on the Metro that I hardly notice race anymore. I am trying not to sound like Stephen Colbert as I type that, but what I mean is that I am far less race-conscious than I used to be.

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Alex MacGillis partially blames Trayvon Martin’s death on Florida’s lax gun laws:

There is a reason why there are so many concealed-carry permits in Florida—the state makes it awfully easy to get one. Florida is a “shall-issue” state, meaning that there is little if no discretion left up to the authorities to withhold a permit if the applicant meets the minimum requirements. That the state leaves the awarding of permits up to its Department of Agriculture, and not to law enforcement, speaks volumes. There are some limits on the permits—you can’t be a fugitive from justice!—but nothing that kept George Zimmerman, who was arrested in 2005 for “resisting an officer with violence” and that same year had a restraining order taken out against him by his ex-fiance—from having the right to carry that night in 2012.

A reader sends a fascinating examination of how the new law has affected Florida. It’s from last month in the Tampa Bay Times but reads even more powerfully today. Money quote:

The number of [SYG] cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using “stand your ground” in ways state legislators never envisioned. The defense has been invoked in dozens of cases with minor or no injuries. It has also been used by a self-described “vampire” in Pinellas County, a Miami man arrested with a single marijuana cigarette, a Fort Myers homeowner who shot a bear and a West Palm Beach jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier.

People often go free under “stand your ground” in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.

No wonder Zimmerman felt able to stalk Martin. What did he have to lose when he could simply kill the dude anyway and get away with it? Worse, the law is subject to huge discrepancies depending on the case, the jury, the prosecutors, etc. It’s enforced with wild inconsistency, as illustrated in the above video.

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Ta-Nehisi explains Richard Cohen’s logic:

[W]e should take a moment to appreciate the import of Cohen’s words. They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among us.

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