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July 16, 2013 3:50 PM Cohen Goes All Archie Bunker

By Ed Kilgore

Richard Cohen is a Washington Post columnist mainly known for regurgitating Conventional Wisdom with a lack of rigor offensive even to people who generally agree with him, and for squandering one of the most valuable pieces of journalistic real estate in the world for going on three decades now.

Occasionally Cohen writes something that breaks his usual mold of lowest-common-denominator bloviating, and it’s usually not a pretty sight. That is defintely true of his latest column, an ignorant and offensive commentary on the Zimmerman verdict that celebrates itself as brave truth-telling.

You can read it yourself if you wish, but Cohen’s basic argument is that racial profiling and discriminatory uses of force by both cops and citizens is necessary for self-defense against black men.

Now you’d think a column based almost exclusively on the assumption that black criminals are terrorizing America would take at least brief notice of the fact that violent crime in this country has been steadily dropping for nearly a quarter-century. Anyone who obtains an understanding of the prevalence of crime from sources other than local news shows knows about that trend. You’d think Cohen might have the resources (and the time, given his languorous once-a-week publication schedule) to know it as well.

If possible, Cohen commits an even more egregious mistake by breezily identifying the position of police officers with that of George Zimmerman. Here’s the grand coda:

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.

How “balanced” of Cohen to accord sympathy to Martin, notwithstanding the threat he posed to an armed vigilante.

You’d think that in cogitating so hard on this situation it might have occurred to Cohen that in the equation—vigilante + gun + black hoodie-wearing teenager + fight = “tragic” but not culpable slaying—the first two items might have stood out to him as a problem. But no, we are left to infer, the danger posed by these savage young black men justifies not just racial profiling and deadly force deployed by trained and sworn public authorities, but by anyone “understandably” suspecting young black men of being savages.

What makes these two huge omissions particularly bizarre is that Cohen does in fact know better. In a January column in the midst of the post-Newtown gun debate, he noted that crime was a “diminished” problem and also deplored a situation where a gun control debate that had swung radically to the right meant that we were arguing about arming “teachers and security guards so that any hallway could become a latter-day O.K. Corral — no Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, just a paunchy retired guy with the keen eye of Mr. Magoo.”

So I really can’t account for this fresh spasm of Archie Bunkerish ignorance and fear from Cohen, unless Adam Lanza is a less threatening figure to him than Trayvon Martin.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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