The Washington Post is defending longtime columnist Richard Cohen after publishing a column that has been criticised in media circles as insensitive and even “racist” in the wake of the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.
In the column, Cohen wrote that he understood why Zimmerman would be suspicious of Trayvon Martin, the teenager he shot and killed last year as a neighbourhood watch volunteer. A jury found that Zimmerman was not guilty of both second-degree murder and manslaughter in Martin’s death.
From Cohen’s column:
I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognise. I don’t know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I’m tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognising the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist. The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.
Cohen’s columns contain many apparent contractions. For instance, he wrote that if he were a young, black man and stopped by police under New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, he would feel “violated.” But two sentences later, he wrote that police can’t simply “ignore race” when deciding who to stop.
The Washington Post’s editorial editor, Fred Hiatt, said he did not regret the decision to publish the column, and he urged readers to accept different viewpoints in a broad discussion on race.
“If I had not published the column, just as many people would be asking why the Post can’t tolerate diverse points of view,” he said in an email.
“I think if people want a ‘conversation about race,’ as is frequently suggested, they should be open to a range of views and perspectives. We already have published multiple such views—not only Richard Cohen’s, but Gene Robinson on the same page, Ruth Marcus and Jonathan Capehart and our own editorial the day before—and we’ve got more coming. If people don’t like a particular opinion, my feeling is they should respond to it, not seek to stifle it.”
Cohen didn’t respond to a request for comment, but he did continue to stir up more discussion in a conversation with Politico’s Dylan Byers. Byers asked Cohen what he meant by the phrase involving Martin’s “uniform we all recognise.”
“A hoodie,” Cohen told Byers. “It’s what’s worn by a whole lot of thugs. Look in the newspapers, online or on television. You see a lot of guys in the mugshots wearing hoodies.”
Cohen’s column has been criticised by even some of the Post’s own — including Ezra Klein, who snidely tweeted this:
I totally recognise the hoodie uniform. I wore it at UC Santa Cruz. Weirdly, no one thought I was dangerous. http://t.co/A86b8WiUCZ
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 16, 2013
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