Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen
In 2007, I wrote an article asking whether the Washington Post's Richard Cohen was "the dumbest columnist ever," acknowledging that it would be quite a competition. But his latest blathering about the Trayvon Martin case should resolve the question once for all. Cohen wins, hands-down.
There are many worthy observations that one might make about the acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting the unarmed 17-year-old African-American boy, especially the recognition that white racism is still a serious problem in the United States and that systemic mistreatment of blacks and other minorities remains a national scandal. But Cohen was more interested in voicing sympathy for Zimmerman because Cohen, too, gets scared when he sees a black youth in a hoodie.
Cohen singled out New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn for the unpardonable sin of donning a hoodie and added: "Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males?"
He then praised New York City police for targeting black youth with "stop and frisk" policies, since, he wrote, "if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk."
Of course, such profiling also might land a lot more black youth in jail for petty offenses like marijuana possession, even though they are no more likely than white youth to carry around a joint. But, hey, that's a price young blacks have to pay so Richard Cohen won't be so frightened.
Cohen also poked fun at anyone who would advocate a race-neutral approach to "stop-and-frisk" police actions. "It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good," he wrote. Yuck, yuck!
Then, after rationalizing racial profiling of young black males, Cohen threw up his hands on the possibility of any serious national effort to address the centuries-old mistreatment of African-Americans in the United States.
"The problems of the black underclass are hardly new," he continued. "They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed."
Cohen's pretentious appeal to some future "cultural" transformation regarding the historic oppression of African-Americans is, of course, a cop-out, one that has been practiced at least since the Founding when slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson would wring their hands about the abomination of slavery and the need to do something, but then continue to own black slaves and have them whipped for running away.
As I write this article, I'm at a coffee shop just a few blocks from Freedman's Village, a community created during the Civil War for emancipated slaves, including those who had worked on Robert E. Lee's plantation in Arlington, Virginia.
When Gen. Lee deserted his Union command in favor of leading the Confederacy's army, part of Lee's property was taken for a cemetery to bury American soldiers and part was given over to freed African-Americans who began a vibrant community of craftsmen in what is now South Arlington.
However, the promise of freedom from the Civil War was never backed up with the political will necessary to change the predicament that these former slaves faced. Many had been denied education and their families were often broken up so plantation owners in the old slave states could make more money by breeding their blacks and selling the children to the new slave states in the west.
After the Civil War ended, the Radical Republicans and President Ulysses S. Grant tried to force a cultural change throughout the South, an acceptance of African-Americans as full citizens of the United States. But the traditional white aristocracy reasserted its control, often using terror tactics of the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1877, the Republican Party had grown weary of the struggle and abandoned Southern blacks to the gentle mercies of the white racist political leaders anchored in the Democratic Party, which went from being the party of slavery to the party of segregation.
In South Arlington today, the legacy of that post-Reconstruction resurgent racism is still visible in the fact that U.S. Route 1 -- as it passes not far from the old Freedman's Village -- is named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a particularly virulent white supremacist. Meanwhile, there is no official recognition of Freedman's Village beyond its legacy of making South Arlington the most racially diverse part of the county. South Arlington is also the section most neglected for public improvements.
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