Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Makes a Hero? Not the Cowardice of Richard Cohen and His Defense of Racial Profiling

Richard Cohen, The Washington Post's habitually racially insensitive bigoted defender of racial profiling and group punishment for black people has offered up his obligatory take on the George Zimmerman case and the finding that he was "not guilty" of killing Trayvon Martin.

Wonkette has a running feature which chronicles Cohen's parade of "rational" racism and negrophobia. They consistently eviscerate his foolishness with deft skill.

There remains one part of Cohen's defense of George Zimmerman, and his complaint that those of us who stand in sympathy and alliance with Trayvon Martin (the real victim here) are troublemakers who annoy and make tired good privileged white men like him, which demands a bit more comment.

Yesterday, Richard Cohen wrote:
There’s no doubt in my mind that Zimmerman profiled Martin and, braced by a gun, set off in quest of heroism. The result was a quintessentially American tragedy — the death of a young man understandably suspected because he was black and tragically dead for the same reason.
The White Right considers Zimmerman a hero as a function of their racism, worship of guns, and deep desire to play Charles Bronson as they protect the good folks of "real America" from the black and brown hordes that have overrun it. Moreover, we cannot overlook how the Authoritarian-Ayn Rand bent of contemporary conservatism is that of bullies and xenophobes.

In all, George Zimmerman, who achieved full and honorary Whiteness by killing a black kid named Trayvon Martin, is a hero because his murderous deeds are a projection of the Tea Party GOP's racial hostility and desire to control through intimidation, force, and violence any individual or group which they identify as some type of Other or "undesirable." 

However, a local definition of heroism is not necessarily one that ought to be respected or accepted without skepticism or critical inquiry.

Noted social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has taken on the puzzle of social altruism and its relationship to the factors which make some people "evil" and others "heroic." His findings can be read here or watched online.

Zimbardo offers the following definition of a heroic act:

"Heroism is about a concern for other people in need, a concern for defending a moral cause, knowing that there is personal cost or risk, and you do it without expectation of reward." 

George Zimmerman meets few if any of those criteria. Zimmerman wanted glory and recognition as the neighborhood hero. Zimmerman did not place himself at risk of any real harm--he was armed; his victim carried candy and a bottle of iced tea. He also chose to racially profile a young black man knowing that the full power of State authority and the police would likely support whatever actions, however violent or unnecessary, Zimmerman decided to take that evening.

Ultimately, George Zimmerman's "heroism" exists in a system of relationships governed by a Newtonian model for the physics of racial attitudes, values, and politics: the more the murderer Zimmerman is vilified by black and brown folks and other reasonable parties, the more his defenders on the Right will embrace him. 

George Zimmerman is a coward. He is no hero. Curtis Sliwa, one of the founders of the Guardian Angels described Zimmerman perfectly when he suggested that
George Zimmerman is Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He’s a nut. He’s a complete nut job who thinks he’s on a ‘mission,’ and this young black man ended up on his radar screen, and then dead.

“Because I deal with the wannabes who want to join the Guardian Angels, I see right away what this guy Zimmerman is: a self-appointed guardian. It’s him determining who is and is not a threat. Forget laws, forget standards, forget the police. Goetz had already been victimized, thrown thru a plate-glass window (in an attemped day-time robbery on Canal Street in 1981). When the four guys began to surround him on the train, to do that dance that many of us were used to back then, when the predators would sniff you out and maybe they’d rob you but they would empower themselves and you’d be completely emasculated and realize there’s nothing you can do if these guy pounce––but this time he got the jump.” 
Those trying to suggest Martin was likewise some sort of thug who brought on his own death because he smoked marijuana or bragged with friends about fighting, “they should impale themselves," said Sliwa. "Here’s a kid, goes out at half-time to get Skittles and iced tea, puts his hoodie on because it’s starting to rain, doesn’t say anything to anybody, isn’t eye-fornicating anybody, just minding his own business. He doesn’t have a M.O. He doesn’t do home invasions. What the hell are you following this kid for? Goddamn right he fights back. The same law that says you can stand and defend yourself in Florida—Martin is defending himself against a guy approaching him with a gun and confronting him.”
Sounds about right to me. One would hope that the Tea Party GOP and the Gun Right would find a better class of hero than George Zimmerman. We judge people by the company they keep.

Perhaps George Zimmerman, he who murdered Trayvon Martin, is in fact the perfect poster child for conservatism in the Age of Obama?


The Sanity Inspector said...

I've known of & respected Curtis Sliwa since the 70s, so thanks much for the quote. But as for all the larger themes invoked here...suppose TM had been white. Does anyone seriously think that GZ would have said, "Oh! He's white...nevermind, officer." and hung up?

chauncey devega said...

He wouldn't have profiled him, he wouldn't have stalked him, and none of this would have happened. Zimmerman is a negrophobe and a racial profiler. The DOJ should get a hate crime indictment on him; the Martin family should sue in civil court and take all his earnings from now to the future.

Why the investment in denying the obvious here that race is a driving variable in both syg cases, the american legal system, and Zimmerman's killing of Martin and conservatives defending him against all common sense.

Doesn't seem like much sanity to me.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Civil cases have much looser evidence standards than criminal cases; I have no problem with the Martins pursuing & winning a wrongful death case against Zimmerman. As for negrophobia, all I have to go on is the published reports of his background--and I haven't seen it. Maybe more facts along those lines will come out later. But the jury found no such attitude based on the evidence provided to them.

chauncey devega said...

I hope you are playing. I think his obsession with calling the cops on black people walking down the street is enough of a qualifier. Nevermind his father's bigoted utterances in his book, relatives and others who say he was taught to only like black people who act "white", etc. or his Myspace page.

The Zimmerman case as one that is clearly rooted in racial profiling ain't rocket science. Don't make it as such through unnecessary mental gymnastics. Racist deeds makes one a racist. Zimmerman is one.

csm said...

I agree with Sliwa. If Zimmerman is their hero and symbol of what they see as "real manhood," its a sad reflection on those on the right who have made him so. Its not like Zimmerman chased down a crook who snatched a woman's purse, stopped a home invasion or used his precious gun to stop a violent car jacking, dispatching perps in the process. And in his career as "Neighborhood Watchman," there is no evidence of him ever doing anything like that, other than being a nuisance and pest to the police.

No, Zimmerman, grown man, used his gun to shoot and kill an innocent essential child minding his own business, "armed" with candy and iced tea. And I believe that Zimmerman, coward that he obviously is, got out of his truck because he KNEW Martin was a kid basically minding his own business. Yet he didn't have the self presence or respect and confidence to do what a lot of us men do, when we see young people who might be going wrong, not that Martin was, and just go up and talk to them. To get respect you have to earn it, and apparently Zimmerman was a wuss who couldn't do that. So he had his gun.

Had Martin been a grown man, and a real hard guy with the obvious potential to do damage, the types you may come across in certain neighborhoods in Chicago, DC, and other cities, Zimmerman would have stayed in that truck and pissed himself. And would have used the excuse "the dispatcher told me to stay in my truck, so I did."

That his defenders cheer him shooting and killing an unarmed child speaks volumes about their own defective character and values. That his defenders cannot find any empathy in them, especially those of them who are parents, regarding the pain and devastation the Martin family must be feeling, renders them less than human.

These people are sick.

SunKissed said...

You're absolutely correct. Zimmerman would not have said those things because he would never have called the cops on a white kid in the first place. His legal team had admitted in court that there had been break ins previously in the neighborhood by black criminals and that Zimmerman was concerned that Trayvon was another of those "f****** punks!" as he called him. Zimmerman pursued Trayvon because Trayvon's skin color looked like the skin color of the those who commited crimes earlier. To suggest that Zimmerman would have followed Trayvon if Trayvon was white is to show that you really don't know any of the details of this case.

Nohero said...

I am scratching my hear here. What would a police office do if he were on the ground being pummeled by the likes of Trayvon Martin. Would the police officer be trained to shoot the aggressor or no?

csm said...

First of all, a police officer wouldn't have been on the ground being pummeled by "the likes of" Martin. A police officer would have identified himself as such, and Martin, just like any person in that scenario, wouldn't have been left to wonder if this stranger who has been following him in a car and then cornering him on foot was not a pervert, child molester or someone out to do him harm, like any rational person would have thought under those circumstances. Martin would have had no more reason to attack a police officer than anyone else who he would have KNOWN was not someone intending to do him harm. He had no way of knowing that about Zimmerman.
In Zimmerman's own words, he said, Martin was running away from him. In his own words, he said he pursued Martin anyway. If a stranger was following you in a car at night and you ran to get away, as anyone might do, and then suddenly was cornered by that stranger, would the instinct to defend oneself not kick in?? Why is it so difficult to see this from Martin's point of view, and assign him the same level of consideration we would give for ANY person who find themselves being pursued by a stranger in a car? ANYBODY, including "the likes of" Martin, would reasonably feel they were in danger and would fight back if cornered. And yet, the outcome of this case says, if as stranger accosts you on the streets, don't say anything, just submit to them. And if they do happen to be a "creep" out to molest you or worse, don't fight back, because if there are no witnesses and you are killed, he can claim self defense. Or, if you kill him, you cannot claim it because he had the gun and you didn't. That's what the "laws" if FL are telling us.

chauncey devega said...

Hell of a pummeling huh? Two supposed punches that didn't even merit stitches. Stop playing. We know what cops would do--the same as wannabe play cop vigilante Zimmerman--commit and extrajudicial murder of a black person.

Again, this ain't rocket science.

ann said...

wow. travis bickle analogy is spot on!