A rush to — or from — judgment?

April 4, 2012


Once upon a time in the late ‘90s, a certain black newswoman was awarded her own column. She wrote 12 pieces, three of them about race. That was too many for her boss, who told her to tone it down. Confused, she went to a white colleague for advice. He explained that, being black, she lacked the judgment to decide if a given racial matter merited a column. In the future, he suggested, if she saw some racial issue she thought worth writing about, she should bring it to him and let him decide.

That paternalistic offer is brought to mind by a recent on-air statement from Tamara Holder, a contributor to Fox “News,” about the killing of Trayvon Martin. “The blacks,” she told Sean Hannity, “are making this more of a racial issue than it should be.”

One is reminded that the more things change, the more they don’t. One wonders how much of a racial issue Trayvon’s death should be, in Ms. Holder’s esteemed opinion.

There is a storyline coalescing here among conservative pundits. From Holder to Hannity to William Bennett to my colleague, Glenn Garvin, it says there’s been a “rush to judgment” against George Zimmerman, the man who stalked and killed an unarmed 17-year-old black kid he found suspicious.

Candidly, there is good reason to fear such a rush. Anyone who remembers the Tawana Brawley hoax and the Duke lacrosse case, among others, knows many African-Americans have proven prone to jumping to conclusions of racism even when the evidence thereof is dubious. Some black folks see racial mistreatment everywhere, always.

But some white folks see it nowhere — ever. That’s a corollary truth that seems apropos to this moment. Indeed, when a black man named Abner Louima was maimed in an act of broomstick sodomy by New York police, Holder’s friend Hannity accused Louima of lying. Don’t rush to judgment, he warned.

For some people, that is less sage advice than default response. The Rodney King beating, said former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, “did look like racism,” but wasn’t. “This is not a racial issue,” said a school official in Louisiana after six black kids were charged with attempted murder for a schoolyard fight with a white classmate.

And so on.

There is a line — subjective, but there just the same — between avoiding a rush to judgment and avoiding judgment itself. If rushing to judgment suggests a reflexiveness that ill serves the cause of justice, refusing to judge suggests a moral cowardice that does the same.

Where this case is concerned, it is telling that judgments made weeks after the fact are being called rushed. The rapid response nature of media being what it is, we make judgments everyday based on much less than five weeks of reflection. We do this on matters of economics, war, politics, scandal.

But, of course, race is different. It scares some of us, particularly when it requires them to concede the continued existence of injustices they would rather deny. They are aided in this denial by a naive belief that a thing can’t truly be racist unless it is wearing a pointed hood or spouting epithets.

But racial bias is seldom so conveniently obvious. More often, it lurks behind smiles and handshakes, unknown sometimes even to its host. More often it is deduced, not declared, seen in excuses that don’t add up, justifications that make no sense, logic that is not.

As in Zimmerman’s decision to stalk Trayvon. Five weeks later, for all the back and forth, push and pull, no one has yet explained what the boy did that made him suspicious. Five weeks later, the initial conclusion still feels like the right one: Trayvon did not seem suspicious because of what he did but because of what he was.

So fine, let us not rush to judgment. But let’s not rush from it, either.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

Mixed bag w/ good points but the conclusion is still unknown and Pitts' refuses to accept that.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 11 months ago

Thank you Leonard. It speaks to a lot of posters on here.This is "post-racial America", right?That's what I figured...

oldvet 5 years, 11 months ago

"against George Zimmerman, the man who stalked and killed an unarmed 17-year-old black kid he found suspicious."

And here we see the racism that Pitts has in his heart. It would be just as accurate, based on facts that have been presented in this case, to say "against George Zimmerman, the man who was on his volunteer neighborhood patrol and was attacked by a 17-year-old black kid who is a known trouble-maker at his school."

Flap Doodle 5 years, 11 months ago

You omitted the business about the bag of lady's jewlery the little angel was toting in school along with his screwdriver.

Mark Zwahl 5 years, 11 months ago

Decent points. Until you go into the "liberal bias" rhetoric. Where racism is concerned, my experience is it's almost always more complicated than it seems. And in a culture that only recently gave equal rights to those who'd been enslaved, the shadows will haunt us forever I imagine. The question is never whether someone IS a racist or not. The question is WHERE IS THE RACISM IN ME? It's in all of us. If we start with that assumption, we might be able to objectively determine what's really going on (or at least get closer to the truth).

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 11 months ago

"Black Panthers placing a bounty on the head of Zimmerman". Fearmonger much? I did read that they had offered a $10,000 reward for finding Zimmerman. I also read that they want him alive and safe, not dead or injured. Don't act like Zimmerman was totally innocent of any wrong-doing.The dispatcher told him to stop following Trayvon but he didn't. Zimmerman's statements afterwards have been blown apart.How was Trayvon a threat?. And why was the initial investigation botched so badly?As for Spike Lee, he has since apologized for his mistake and paid the family generously for any and all inconvenience they may have suffered.More than I've ever heard of any "white" man doing,ever.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 11 months ago

So, das lennypitts will hesitate before jumping on the next "get whitey" bandwagon? Yeah, I didn't think so either.

50YearResident 5 years, 11 months ago

Will Pitts change his opinion of what happened after he reads this comment from NBC's appology for leaving out this part of the aired 911 call? In a news report last week, NBC’s “Today” show aired its edited version of Zimmerman’s call. The recording viewers heard was trimmed to suggest that Zimmerman volunteered to police, with no prompting, that Martin was black. But the portion of the tape that was cut out had the 911 dispatcher asking Zimmerman if the person who had raised his suspicion was “black, white or Hispanic,” to which Zimmerman responded, “He looks black.”

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 11 months ago

Gun-toting, nutty, vigilante cop wannabes are a protected class. It is right and good that Zimmerman has not been arrested. He was exercising the rights of his privileged, protected class.

tbaker 5 years, 11 months ago

Rush to judgment? Let’s see. To quote Mr. Pitts, “…racial bias is seldom so conveniently obvious.” He makes an excellent point. According to a 2005 FBI report, blacks accounted for 13 percent of the population and 49 percent of all homicide victims. In 93 percent of the cases, the killer was black. Half of the victims were ages 17 to 29. That works out to 4,000 murders of young blacks in one year, the vast majority being committed by other blacks. The cops could arrest Zimmerman, convict him, and hang him in the town square tomorrow, but that will have no effect on the lives of young black people who are stuck in this murderous inter-racial mayhem. How does Pitts judge that? Is the life of a young black man only important to the national dialog about race when he is killed by a non-black?

gudpoynt 5 years, 11 months ago

Yes, very good point.

Pitt's article is entirely about calling out right-wing media, particularly Fox "news", for downplaying the racial implications in this tragedy to the point of outright denial of any implications at all, despite the rest of the country (derided by F-news-and-friends as the conspiratorial "left-wing" media) for acknowledging them.

So clearly, as you succintly posit, Pitt's probably thinks that "the life of a young black man is only important to the national dialog about race when he is killed by a non-black".

Then again, you could just be reaching deperately to turn the fact that this article is not about the homicides of all other black America into a critique of Pitts sympathies, or lack thereof, toward people of his own race, in an effort to placate the cognitive dissonance you experience when you find yourself, yet again, siding with the idiots from F-news.

I would put money on the latter.

jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

That was an awful lot of words, gudpoynt. "Nice strawman" in sarcastic font would have sufficed and wouldn't have shown off the amateur grammar. Not that you would be correct either way.

Nevertheless, I'd love to hear what you believe are the "racial implications" in this case.

gudpoynt 5 years, 11 months ago

Non-black neighborhood watchperson follows, and then shoots and kills an unarmed black man. Shooter claims he was attacked, which is being investigated. Cites "suspicious looking" as reason why he began his pursuit in the first place.

Of course the eyebrows of racial implication are going to be raised. Don't be dense.

Pitt's is merely pointing out that the folks at F-news are trying to make their audience feel as though everybody else in the country is "rushing to judgement" if they question whether or not the incident was racially motivated or not.

And the Pitt's haters on this site swallowing F-new's load of B.S.

For instance, Pitt's surmises the gist of his piece quite nicely in the final line: "... let us not rush to judgment. But let’s not rush from it, either". And Pitt's haters on this site are either reaching for unsubstantiated evidence to exonerate the shooter (mimicking the F-news tact), or, as the poster above attempts to do, discredit Pitt's himself by suggesting that Pitt's is only interested because the victim was killed by a non-black. Pathetic and ridiculous.

jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

Let me first ask: how is it you know so much about what Fox News is saying or reporting? It's amusing how so many on these strings throw out Fox and it's content as if they're regular watchers. The only thing I've ever watched there more than once was O'Reilly, and I lean right. How is it so many staunch liberals watch that apparent garbage?

"Of course the eyebrows of racial implication are going to be raised. Don't be dense"

The eyebrows are raised??? Who's being dense here? The head blew off. From the outset this has been ALL about race. Just because a "non-black" killed a black teen does NOT, in any way make this about race whatsoever. The entire country has been told over and over that Zimmerman's a racist, he's a racial profiler, he "stalked" Trayvon. There's not a single ounce of proof to ANY of that, not one, at least not that's been released to the public. Therefore, this has been nothing but a rush to judgement.
I'm all for condemning racists and racism when it's due. The only "implication" of such here is that one person involved was black and one wasn't. And I staunchly believe that it's nothing but counter-productive to scream racism every time it's remotely possible. I'd hope most learned the lesson of "crying wolf" by now.

gudpoynt 5 years, 11 months ago

Ha! I actually don't watch F-news very often. But I've watched enough to know that I don't have to watch it all the time to have a pretty good idea of what they are going to say. And I do listen to Hannity, Ingram, and if I'm feeling particularly massochistic, Michael Savage, on the radio.

So when I read Pitt's recount how the good ol' toys at F-news are suggesting that "the blacks are making more of a racial issue than it should be", I am not at all surprised at their spin.

And when he call's them out for adopting the stance of "it's not an issue of race", as opposed to doing what real news organiations are doing and saying "the case is under investigation. Many suspect that the incident may have been racially motivated," I don't see how that can be construed as his "head blowing off".

You see the difference? F-news reporting is an assertion of a subjective view. The latter is a objective report of what's actually going on.

All Pitt's is doing is wagging a finger at F-news for being a crappy not-really-news organization, which isn't unusuall for Pitt's, let alone the countless others who are ashamed of the fact that F-news qualifies as an actual news source for a startlingly large number US citizens.

If you think this is an example of Pitt's head blowing off, then I think you are overexaggerating.

If you think the rest of the nation is blowing it's head off, then I think you are merely consuming F-and-friends' overexaggeration, as they intended.

But when a US civilian shoots and kills another, we demand an explanation. Currently that explanation is that the latter civilian looked suspicious. The latter civilian, Treyvon, was unarmed. He was black. The shooter is not black. The shooter claims there was an altercation. But there's no evidence of, and no witnesses to the altercation. You say "crying wolf"? Geez louise, wake up.

jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

"the blacks are making more of a racial issue than it should be"

That's true. Most everyone is. And there's no proof whatsoever that race played a part.

"Many suspect that the incident may have been racially motivated,"

Right. And that's a huge part of the problem. Many suspect - without any evidence. Very sad.

"The latter is a objective report of what's actually going on."

That's so ridiculous it's funny.

"If you think this is an example of Pitt's head blowing off, "

Wasn't talking about Pitts but the media and all making this about race. There hasn't just been subtle innuendo that there's a chance this was racially motivated, many, including yourself, have already made up their mind and are railing about it "obviously" being so. That's ridiculous and sad.

"If you think the rest of the nation is blowing it's head off, then I think you are merely consuming F-and-friends' overexaggeration, "

Learning impaired or intentionally obtuse? I already said I don't watch that crap. Could you be a little more pathetic going back to that well again?

"But when a US civilian shoots and kills another, we demand an explanation"

Without reviewing, I believe that's the first sensible thing you've written here, though 'US civilian' is narrower than I"d choose

"The shooter claims there was an altercation. But there's no evidence of, and no witnesses to the altercation."

Umm, yes, there IS evidence and witnesses. And I'm the one that should wake up? Cop a freakin' clue. And get back to me when you're actually objective and rational. The ONLY fact that exists that suggests this incident was racially motivated was one person was black. And only a moron hangs there hat on that slim thread.
Talk to me when you know what you're talking about. I'm not wasting more time with someone that can't grasp that simple nuance.

jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

Oh, and by the way, your Fox News explanation along w/ the claims you listen to Hannity et al, in my opinion, are a complete crock of shinola. Like I said, I lean right and I can't stand any of that garbage. For someone on the left, it's all masochistic. And not a little dumb. Who would waste their time and life monitoring entertainers that make their blood boil? Hope your life's not that sad.

50YearResident 5 years, 11 months ago

Original story only listed Zimmerman as "white".

50YearResident 5 years, 11 months ago

It makes a lot better racist story if the perp is white, and the victom is black, doesn't it? The other way around, we seldom hear about it.

bad_dog 5 years, 11 months ago

Given the term "Hispanic" includes those of Spanish descent, some Hispanics could very well have resided in or passed through Scotland, Germany or England generations ago.

jaywalker 5 years, 11 months ago

Gimme a slight break, Paul. What say we get real?

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

I have observed, on these boards and on others, that the people who are complaining about the rush to judgment of Mr Zimmerman are the same ones that have rushed to judgment of Mr Martin and are glomming onto anything that could possibly make him look bad, even though it has nothing to do with the situation where he was killed---even to the point of supposing things like he may have smarted off to Mr Zimmerman.

jafs 5 years, 11 months ago

I'd be glad for him to have a fair trial.

Unfortunately, he hasn't even been arrested.

You weren't there either - why do you believe that story? It's one thing to say we weren't there, and we don't know what happened, and it's another to conclude that story is true.

gudpoynt 5 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Fossick 5 years, 11 months ago

"and we don't know what happened, and it's another to conclude that story is true."

Bingo. This whole issue is a perfect example of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." It would be hard to recall an issue where more emotion was blown over fewer established facts than this one.

jafs 5 years, 11 months ago

I don't know - it seems to me that he should have been arrested already, and I don't understand why he hasn't been yet.

Everybody deserves a fair trial, and many rush to judge before that happens, on all sides of the political spectrum.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Born Again, you just proved my point.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Born Again, once again you prove my point. The only time you used "allegedly" on this thread is in your reply to me at 4:20 pm.

Please show me where I have ever said that Mr Zimmerman shouldn't have a fair trial---or where anybody has said that. If the media and "liberals"---although I doubt that everybody demanding an investigation is a liberal---hadn't made a fuss about this, what do you think would have happened? Would justice have been served if there was no further investigation?

Fossick 5 years, 11 months ago

Actually, Trayvon was followed because he was a male. Does anyone doubt that were he a black woman, especially an old black women, no one would have looked twice at him?

Sexism, man, I'm telling you.

Ragingbear 5 years, 11 months ago

Whether he calls them "blacks", "African-Americans" or even "Negroes" doesn't change the fact that this is a very racist article. Racism is racism. You don't have to use particular words for a statement or event to be racist. The Republo-Conservative Agenda would tell you otherwise.

Fossick 5 years, 11 months ago

Leonard Pitts Jr. doesn't care about black people?

Ragingbear 5 years, 11 months ago

He doesn't care about white people either, if that makes you feel any better.

Mike Ford 5 years, 11 months ago

it's so funny to see clueless parts of this country play flip on the columnist that catches them in the act of damage control.

denak 5 years, 11 months ago

I actually agree with BAA. I don't think it is sanctimonious at all to assert that George Zimmerman be given his right to a fair trial. Do we really have to go through the whole sordid history of when, in our country, people have not been given their right to a fair trial? Poor, white, black, Jewish, Irish, Mexican, the list goes on and on and on. And they didn't get that fair trial because everyone just "knew" that so and so was guilty because obviously the alleged perpetrator was ___ (fill in the blank.)

Add in the inflammotory nature of our media and these is even less of a chance. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the last 100 years. The media has always cared more about getting people riled up about a crime than actually reporting on what happened. All this speculation soon becomes fact. The newspapers, even if they wanted to get it right, don't have the space to print it all. The writer has a set amount of inches that he or she has to fill in. Do you really think the writer is going to go into detail about forensic anaylysis or is the writer going to talk about how the alleged perp "looked shifty' and the victim's wife cried "silently but with dignity?"

I have taken quite a few law classes and what I have found out from reading trail manuscripts is that the media only gets about 10% of it right. The other 90% they are only reporting what other people have said or it is wong. And people take it as fact. Bernie Goetz was portrayed in the media has some kind of vigilante savior but if you read the actual trial documents, quite another picture emerges--one of a cold-blooded killer.

The fact is, whether you are Leonard Pitts or just some person posting on here, if you are getting your information from the media, more than likely you are rushing to judgement because you are not, in any way, getting ALL the facts. And you are probably not even getting unbiased facts no matter how much your news sources claims to be.

If you want to honor Treyvon Martin, make sure George Zimmerman gets his fair day in court. If he goes to jail for killing Treyvon Martin, let it be based on actual evidence. Not innuendo. Not speculation. Actual evidence, of which, none of us have seen in its entirety.

Katara 5 years, 11 months ago

denak (anonymous) says… "If you want to honor Treyvon Martin, make sure George Zimmerman gets his fair day in court."

You have to be charged with a crime to get your fair day in court. Mr. Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 11 months ago

Don't confuse the howling mob with facts.

juma 5 years, 11 months ago

Does the LJW actually pay real money $$$$ to Pitts?? If so, I will continue to never , ever pay for this rag.

Jon Jambor 5 years, 11 months ago

Don't say that! LJW is a real gem. I can't imagine Lawrence without a paper. Even if it occasionally runs some very biased opinion pieces. That's the point, isn't? I do wish they would run a columns by Dr. Thomas Sowell. His sharp analysis would blow Pitt's ranting out of the water

Armstrong 5 years, 11 months ago

Isn't Pitts race card getting worn out yet

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Who is saying Mr Zimmerman shouldn't get a fair trial? I don't see any "liberals" on these boards advocating a lynching---haven't seen it elsewhere either.

It's a fair investigation of what happened that we are advocating. The appearance of a cover-up is what pissed people off. Is there a problem with wanting a fair investigation?

As far as Pitts being a "hater," I don't see it. I'm as white as can be and I don't feel like anything he has said in his columns that I have read indicates that he hates whites. I think some people just want to read that into what he says. I don't always agree with everything he says, but there is still racism in the United States and it needs to be addressed. I doubt that there is anyone who doesn't harbor some racism or other bigotry and we need to constantly examine ourselves.

Armstrong 5 years, 11 months ago

Pitts doesn't hate whites, the problem is he always portrays blacks as the victim. That is why Pitts is such a joke.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

What Spike Lee did was abominable. While this doesn't make it OK, he tweeted "I Deeply Apologize To The McClain Family For Retweeting Their Address. It Was A Mistake. Please Leave The McClain’s In Peace."

He also phoned the couple---“He was really kind,” Elaine McClain told the Associated Press. “And when he called us, you could just tell he really felt bad about it. And it was just a slip, and I just know that he really, really has been concerned.”

The AP has reported that Mr Lee also compensated the family an undisclosed settlement. He did not qualify his apology or in any way make excuses for what he did.

The new Black Panther Party is considered a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. They are a fringe group. They do not personify or in any way represent "liberals" or the "left."

Rev Jesse Jackson has denounced the bounty that the New Black Panther Party put on Zimmerman.

What I have done is to advocate for fairness---and for justice for Mr Martin. Do you advocate for justice for Mr Martin, Born Again? You seem mainly to be interested only in exonerating Mr Zimmerman, but then maybe I misunderstand you. I hope you are advocating for justice for Mr Martin, because if you are not, then you are part of the group that is making this a dangerous situation.

jafs 5 years, 11 months ago

It is remarkable to me that you can't see both sides are pretty equivalent on this score.

Rushing to judge Martin is equivalent to rushing to judge Zimmerman.

NBC wrongly altered the tape - Breitbart wrongly edited his tape of Shirley Sherrod.


Your argument seems to be analogous to my father-in-law's (he's a committed liberal) - well, my side may be bad, but yours is worse. It's a strange argument to me, when either of you use it.

I think we should all be demanding integrity from both sides, if we believe in that.

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