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Opinion

Opinion

Americans link race and criminality

May 6, 2012

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I don’t care about George Zimmerman’s MySpace page.

Granted, it was gratifying to read recently in The Miami Herald about his crude animus toward Mexicans (“soft ass wanna be thugs”) and his reference to a former girlfriend as an “ex-hoe.” Given the way white supremacists and other Zimmerman supporters have exaggerated and manufactured evidence to paint Zimmerman’s unarmed 17-year-old victim, Trayvon Martin, as a thug who somehow deserved shooting, this unflattering portrait offers the same satisfaction one feels any time the goose is basted with sauce that was prepared for the gander.

But ultimately, Zimmerman’s online profile is as irrelevant as Trayvon’s to any real understanding of the social dynamics that were at play the night the boy was shot to death. Worse, our fixation on this ephemera, the need on the one hand to make Trayvon some dark gangsta straight from Central Casting and on the other to find a Klan hood in the back of Zimmerman’s closet, suggests a shallow, even naive, understanding of the role race seems to have played in this tragedy.

The pertinent fact is that Zimmerman found Trayvon suspicious because, as he told the 911 dispatcher, the boy was walking slowly and looking around. That might be the behavior of a boy who was turned around in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Or of a boy enjoying a cell phone conversation with a girl and not overly eager to return to where his sweet nothings might be overheard by his dad.

That no such alternate possibilities seem to have occurred to Zimmerman for even an instant suggests the degree to which we as a people have grown comfortable with the belief that black is crime and crime is black. Nor are African-Americans immune to the effects of that invidious formulation.

Indeed, the dirty little secret of the Martin killing is that Zimmerman could easily have been black. True, a black Zimmerman probably would not have been sent home by prosecutors who declined to press charges — whiteness still has its privileges — but otherwise, yes. It is entirely possible.

Why not? Blacks watch the same TV news as anyone else. We internalize the same message. We drink the same poison.

Why else do you think black folk flinch when the mug shot goes up on television, hoping the face will not be brown — as if we bore some communal responsibility for the suspect’s misdeeds? Why else do you think so much of our music is a song of violence and crime? Why else, when I ask an auditorium full of black kids how frequently the individual who murders a white person is black, do they figure it at 75 percent? Why else are they shocked to hear it’s only 13?

At some subterranean level, we — African-Americans — still believe the garbage of innate criminality we have so assiduously been fed, and struggle with hating ourselves, as America long ago taught us to do. We struggle with it, yet we know better from firsthand, man-in-the-mirror experience. So how much harder is the struggle for white folks?

This is why I grow impatient with those — black, white and otherwise — who think the salient social issue here is George Zimmerman’s character. It is not. Nor is it Trayvon’s.

It is, rather, that ours is a nation so obscenely comfortable in conflating black with crime that a civilian carrying no badge of authority nonetheless feels it his right to require that an American boy walking lawfully upon a public street justify his presence there. And it is the knowledge that at least some black men would have done the same.

To make this about Zimmerman is to absolve the rest of us for maintaining a society that, in ways both overt and covert, still makes criminality a function of skin. Trayvon Martin was killed by a stereotype. George Zimmerman is just the guy who fired the gun.

— 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.

Comments

rockchalk1977 1 year, 11 months ago

On April 14th two newspaper reporters, Marjon Rostami and David Forster, were coming home from the theater when someone threw a rock at their vehicle. Forster got out to affront the assailant and was set upon by approximately five African-American young men who beat him. The thugs then attacked Rostami as a crowd of about 30 surrounded the vehicle and witnessed the assault. The initial police report described the assault as a bias crime and a 16-year-old has been arrested. But now, the Norfolk police say it was not a bias crime and are refusing to release the 911 tape saying that would hurt their investigation. At the same time the newspaper the reporters work for, the "Virginian Pilot", didn't cover the story for two weeks.

http://nation.foxnews.com/virginia-mob-attack/2012/05/07/virginia-race-mob-attack-foxs-watters-enters-projects-confronts-editor

Where is the (Travon) news media on this one?

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

the most persuasive case for letting unknowing white people ignore the sins of american history and doing away with the teaching of other culture's history to finally foment the creation of a totally amnesia laden society that sees things the George Will, William F Buckley Jr, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas......ooops....I mean white washed way......hooray for dumb.... hooray for the Michelle Bachmann view of history.....hooray........

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 11 months ago

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

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jaywalker 1 year, 11 months ago

"Check Fossick's stats - the numbers for the overall homicides of black and white people are virtually identical."

Hence the cause for alarm, jafs, if you consider percentage of population.

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50YearResident 1 year, 11 months ago

I have spent some time reading all these posts and I have to agree with Fossic. We have to look to the present for the answers. We can't continue to give a free pass for what happened 150 years ago. Jafs wants to excuse the black culture problems for what happened before any of the present living people were born. The black people need to make life's decisions on the present. I was raised without grand parents and set my goals in life by what was available to me by working hard and getting educated. Anyone can do that regardless of race, so why isn't it happening? Maybe it"s because we are not holding people responsible for their own success. The American dream is still available but you have to earn it, it's not an entitlement.

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Fossick 1 year, 11 months ago

Jafs: "You've moved from condemning a "black culture" to condemning aspects of a subculture that advocate violence - a much more reasonable position."

But it's only a start. Because once we agree to condemn random violence, perhaps we can agree the personal responsibility is a good thing, and that therefore the baby daddy culture is not helpful. Then we can hopefully work on agreeing that literacy is good, so we need to break the cultural assumptions that "make black racial identity irreconcilable with literacy for blacks, especially black males" http://www.amazon.com/Your-Average-Nigga-Performing-Masculinity/dp/081433248X (even if idiot scholars promote exactly that)

At some point, step by step, we'll have gotten back pretty close to where I began.

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booyalab 1 year, 11 months ago

some of my best friends are criminals

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Fossick 1 year, 11 months ago

Satirical: "But when one thinks we are still living in the past and thinks the answers to the present are in past problems, then we cannot move forward."

This is exactly correct. The past is what it is and cannot be changed. Its tentacles reach into the hearts and minds and unthinking actions of everyone today. But it's too easy to blame the past in some amorphous way. When the black illegitimacy rate was 25% in 1965 (when Pat Moynihan first screamed about it) and has tripled since, it's foolish to blame slavery or Jim Crow for the fact that it is three times as high today. When black murder rates climb today and more and more kids are shot on the streets of Chicago, it is foolish to blame 150 years ago. If what happened 150 years ago caused black crime, why was it not higher 150 years ago? There has to be something today that's causing what we see today.

In that sense, using the past as an excuse for today's problems is a way of escaping having to deal with them. If we are constantly arguing about the past and how all the horrible things white people did are in some unknown way partially responsible for some unknown number of actions that people make today, then we might as well leave it wholly out of our calculations. We'll not get anywhere because there's nowhere to go.

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Fossick 1 year, 11 months ago

Jafs: "I suppose it affords the judger the opportunity to feel superior, or something." VoR: "I agree jafs - it may also allow the judger to avoid admitting our society's flaws related to long-standing cultural stereotypes and historic inequalities"

Here's the problem with the armchair psychoanalyst game: it's too easy to play. For example, Jafs' response and Kathy's are perfect examples of Liberal emotional reaction to anyone trying to hold blacks to full citizenship as Americans. Because Liberals are simultaneously afraid of blacks and afraid of being called racists because of that fear, their cognitive dissonance drives them to treat blacks as children (and therefore non-threatening). Liberals psychologically project onto all posts concerning blacks a desire for superiority because they believe themselves superior to the "noble savage" child-image of blacks they have created in their own minds. When they think of black people, they immediately establish a mental superiority/inferiority framework with themselves safely on top.

Ironically, when liberals refuse to treat blacks as full citizens and even full, morally-responsible humans, they are displaying the same hyper-paternalism that slaveholders used to keep blacks in a state of subservient dependence for 300+ years. They even share the same desired result, albeit for a different reason: while the slaveholder hoped to gain financial from black dependence, the Liberal hopes to display to his peers his moral sanctimony via the dependent black mascots he collects.

Liberals therefore have become the thing they most hate: white supremacists who retard black people's development into mature and well-balanced adults because they have convinced themselves that blacks cannot do any better.

See how easy it is?

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Fossick 1 year, 11 months ago

"The liberal solution is too simplistic (economics) and the GOP blame it on the poor moral behavior of black men."

Both solutions are too simplistic, but that does not make them wholly incorrect. There is nothing wrong with blaming crime on "the poor moral behavior" of those who perpetrate it. Why else do we throw anyone, white or black, in jail? And there is, of course, an economic element to it, though I think Liberals are incorrect in making income inequalities a causal factor in crime to the extent they do.

The place we need to look is in our cultural messages. When a black male grows up with no male role models but gang bangers, listens to music that celebrates gang banging, and experiences the cultural respect that accrues to successful gangs, it is a very rare kid who will not be involved in gangs and their inherent violence to some extent. The kid who grows up watching BET is going to be a different kid from one who grows up watching Nickelodeon. The kid with books in his home is more likely to be a reader than one who does not.

Blacks have always had an outsized effect on the majority culture, especially in music and language. Nearly all of our modern music has black roots, and what happens in Black America will probably always continue to move American culture as a whole. That said, there is very little a white person can do to take "personal responsibility" for the cesspool that is today's urban black culture. We can't ban NWA*, can't force BET off the air, can't make people get married or make fathers take emotional responsibility for their kids. That has got to come from within the Black community. Thankfully, the basis for such a renaissance exists. But it will be a long road to travel.

The problem is not black people, the problem is the cultural values that celebrate crime and violence, and that culture's messages are transmitted and received predominately by black people. The second problem is those who think that blacks are a) too inferior to do better, or b) too inferior to be held responsible. Liberals have one of those faults, Conservatives the other.

  • Though I remember when Florida tried to ban 2LiveCrew a few years back. NPR ran a wonderful opinion piece about the importance of free expression, with a live performance of 2LiveCrew as background, while bleeping exactly what Florida wanted bleeped. The irony was delicious.
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rockchalk1977 1 year, 11 months ago

Like 50YearResident, I watch the local news and see who's causing the trouble. Regardless of what Leonard "The Chip" Pitts thinks, young black males are the problem in most communities. In my view, this situation results from a general lack of discipline growing up often without a father or other positive male role model. Thank you liberal Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pitts will never discuss inherent problems in the black community because personal responsibility is not his style. It's just easier to blame the white man.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

always leave it to a troll to make funny on a profiling issue.....maybe said troll needs to experience profiling and they maybe troll wouldn't be such a troll.....

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grammaddy 1 year, 11 months ago

If Zimmerman is a "white hispanic", wouldn't that make Obama a"black caucasian"?

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50YearResident 1 year, 11 months ago

Americans link race and criminality Sad, but true. However there is a reason why this happens and it's not the fault of white people. I guess we could blame the nightly news for running stories about the crimes that happen each day and showing who committed them. Maybe it's the stories we read about gangs and drugs in the inner cities and mob violence. Or it could be the stories about the rundown slums that nobody ever does any upkeep on. Almost all of these stories envolve the same race. So Leonard, why wouldn't Americans link race with criminality?

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jaywalker 1 year, 11 months ago

Overall a decent piece by Pitts. There's no doubt the "narrative" has been instilled through media forever. But after admitting inappropriate glee upon the discovery of two comments from a social media site (two comments that don't prove jack about jack), Pitts decides being obtuse will help set the stage for his main point? First this:

"That no such alternate possibilities seem to have occurred to Zimmerman for even an instant suggests the degree to which we as a people have grown comfortable with the belief that black is crime and crime is black."

8 burglaries in 14 months. Numerous other crimes, attempted break-ins, and vandalism in same period. Majority of reports cited black youths involved.
I've said it before: if the majority of the crime in that ravaged neighborhood had been perpetrated by 50-something Amish men in overalls, that's who Zimmerman would have been "profiling." That Pitts refuses to acknowledge that obvious and understandable influence on Zimmerman's mindset is, at the least, pathetic, and not a little dishonest.

" — whiteness still has its privileges"

No matter what transpires with all this going forward, it's at least altered history in one aspect. Never before, at least that I can recall, has one race instantly become another race over night. There are some that might argue effectively that people like Pitts, with their agendas stamped on their foreheads, are merely opportunists grasping at anything to keep their position and agenda alive within a particular story. Personally, I think this is all a desperate conspiracy by the Census Bureau designed to make their jobs easier. All those boxes to check and count is a drag. Ideally, they'd like to whittle it down to just two. Think of the time saved! Scuttlebutt 'round the water cooler says the fix is in for Mongoloids to become "white" next.

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its_just_math 1 year, 11 months ago

"My Kiowa friend and I were pulled over three times in an hour between White Cloud and Sparks and never given a ticket."

lol!

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

three other times occurred leaving the Iowa and Kickapoo reservations on K-7 near White Cloud and on US 75 near K-9 and Netawaka. My Kiowa friend and I were pulled over three times in an hour between White Cloud and Sparks and never given a ticket. I refused search knowing my 4th amendment rights and dealt with a k-9 unit neat Iowa Point which is a ghost town on the third stop. I've been employed 15 years and don't have any criminal record.The officers simply didn't like the Indians discovered columbus sticker or the choctaw and proud of it sticker on the back of my car window.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

My wife and I were profiled on I 35 in Edmond, OK, after an OKC Thunder game in February of 2009. We were profiled north of Carbondale, KS in September of 2009. White officers both times. Judge in Osage County courtroom let my wife elaborate from witness stand about profiling over the prosecutor's objections. My wife spoke openly about racial profiling. Small victory over white court system in rural Kansas. Please start denying it exists now......

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 11 months ago

Speaking of crime, the set of criminal spammers who have a personal bone for LJW has to be a rather small set. woof

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equalaccessprivacy 1 year, 11 months ago

Mr. Pitts is largely correct, but I believe in coalitions. Other suspect classes exist besides African Americans. Of course as former slaves, blacks have been especially mistreated.Law enforcement and residents of white supremacist, homogeneous communities are like the characters in Jackson's "The Lottery" when it comes to singling out their fellow human beings for stoning.

Only profiling isn't random. I find those who kiss to kill especially monstrous. Some folks are so clueless and misguided they regard their self-serving definitions of helpfulness as the soul of godliness and neighborliness--- when in truth, they are actually committing terrible harms and singling out their fellows on a discriminatory basis, not making any positive contributions. Don't try to make my day by grabbing the mail out of my hands to post it in the blue-domed box. That expresses your wish for gratitude not any need of mine. I respect those who honor boundaries and independence. Messing with mail that doesn't belong to you is a federal offense.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

there's no point explaining anything to you.......learn how to spell reality first......

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

is blaming the smart person the only defense you have? it must be a non admissal admissal.....ducking reality since people landed on the shore....didn't have land in feudalism in Europe....didn't pay taxes to England for French and Indian War debt.....stole land from Indians and got free labor from Africans.......just like the shirt I saw at a pow wow a decade ago that stated, "America's first welfare recipients" with a picture of a pilgrim with the buckle hat and an empty plate and a begging face. From then to corporate welfare and tax abatements now.....flipping reality on it's head like white people have always done.

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Ray Parker 1 year, 11 months ago

In view of the various black mobs committing cowardly attacks on white people recently, white people, especially white Hispanics, need to be carrying firearms, and practicing their shooting skills, for defense of their lives and the lives of other white people. Large magazine capacities will be preferred now, since the black mobs are roaming in large number in search of hapless white victims. Maybe coonskin hats could be used to identify the armed-and-ready white people. Looks like the leftist media’s incessant race baiting will soon bring widespread dramatic results.

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Mike Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

I'm in a calling out mood so here it goes.....who brought capitalism here to get gold, fur, pelts, and tobacco in return? who created the triangle trade to provide free labor for lazy europeans in the 17th century? who had no sense of economic balance four centuries ago and demanded that the wilderness be cleared of pelts and furs and set up the trade system in such a way that land was the only quid pro quo once too much trade was done? who passed the equality part of the bill of rights but didn't really mean it? who came up with the 3/5ths provision and the doctrine of discovery to game political equality and justify land theft? who had cowards like SCOTUS justice Taney who waffled on Dred Scott? Who enacted Jim Crow to offset the US Constitution? Who was okay with the Dawes Allotment Act and Plessy V Ferguson? Who created reservations and the other side of the tracks to benefit from theft and disenfranchisement? Who created the dixiecrats when Truman integrated the military by executive order? who fled to the suburbs to create american apartheid and the divide between east and west of troost avenue and neigborhood covenants? who is soooo defiantly anti minority that the US Justice Department still has to monitor voting districts in African, Latino, and Native American voting districts in this country in Alabama, Texas, and South Dakota? Who has the current batch of clowns trying to reverse social equality trends to go back the mythical archie bunker days? Okla Nahollo has scored 100% on whose responsible for the wonderful expliotative mess known as the US. Enough with the love it or leave it nonsense also.....my ancestors were already here and it wasn't called America after Amerigo Vespucci....it was whatever 700 indigenous nations called their own territories.

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tomatogrower 1 year, 11 months ago

I once heard a story about a racist woman who said she was always super vigilant when in an elevator or a parking garage alone, and there was a black man nearby. She ended up getting raped by a white guy. Of course, the Christian taliban would say that it was a blessing, and the white guy was just looking for someone to bear his children, so shut up and have the baby.

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rockchalker52 1 year, 11 months ago

"I" like to "put" words "in" quotation "marks."

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 11 months ago

My favorite "stereotype" is Cabrini Greens and Robert Taylor estates.

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its_just_math 1 year, 11 months ago

Whites fled to the safety of the burbs to escape the crime, drugs and crumbling neighborhoods and the liberal establshment pressured governemnt to ramp up entitlements (including underwriting high risk loans to to unqualified blacks) and has continued to blame whites ever since for blacks inner-city problem. Projects built in the late 60's and early 70's in inner cities all across America that were summarily trashed are now either still in shambles, already leveled or in the best case scenario, rehabbed by savy delvelopers and now are part of nice, gentrified city areas.

Take a look at areas of Detroit and Chicago. The Jesse Jacksons and AL Sharptons and Leonard Pitts scream "This is white's fault!".

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 11 months ago

Das Pittster has much more reason to be wary of young black men than a White Hispanic does.

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Armstrong 1 year, 11 months ago

It's ilke dejavu again. I believe yesterday Valkarie was spewing out a heaping batch of racist excrement, with Tusch it's a daily thing so Pitts you're up !!! At least Lenny let everyone know it's whitey's fault from a national level.

Just to recqap, whites stereotyping leads to -

1) Black on black crime - whitey's fault 2) Drug abuse in the black community - whitey's fault 3) Broken families, yep whitey's fault too

Thanks for strainghtening that out Len. M.L.K. would be proud of your efforts. You follow rule number one of the liberal playbook, " Always the victim " Unfortunate some are dumb enough to believe your garbage.

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Fossick 1 year, 11 months ago

"Why else do you think so much of our music is a song of violence and crime?"

Seems to me that Mr. Pitts has placed his cart before his horse here. Sixty years ago, very little black music celebrated violence and crime. John Lee Hooker's "I'm Bad Like Jesse James" comes to mind, a single song from an incredible Blues career. Today there is an entire genre of such celebration, and youth, white and black and hispanic, celebrate the gangsta life.

It's far more likely that music of violence and crime is a causal factor in actual violence and crime than that it is the plaintive cry of a falsely accused, peace-loving culture. Mr. Pitts notes that blacks are only responsible for the murder of 13% of whites. What percentage of blacks are they responsible for murdering? Isn't that the real tragedy, Mr. Pitts?

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observant 1 year, 11 months ago

The Pitts haters are in their usual full racist ranting mode. Would be nice for a change if they would really read and listen to the points he continually makes. But no, just the usual total denial of reality.

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its_just_math 1 year, 11 months ago

I don't to read Pitts' spin. We all know the rate of crime in inner-city America. Oh, but that's racist cops and an unfair justice system, administering justice unevenly, right?

Gotcha two tongue clicks

Pitts must see that as too easy a target, doing some hard editorializing on inner city crime vs. white suburban crime I suppose. Besides, it would vastly undermine his and race-baiting ilk's main agenda.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 11 months ago

Pitts doesn't "realize" in police circles it's called an "MO".

and for you "Larryvillagers" "MO" is not one of the 3 Stooges.

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BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 11 months ago

I wonder how it would work if we just stopped arresting persons of color? You know, affirmative action for black criminals.

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jafs 1 year, 11 months ago

Anybody who wants to see clear and direct evidence of the ways in which many people view those of different races differently should see a show called "What would you do?"

There was an episode recently in which two young men were shown trying to steal a bike (all were actors), one white and one black. When the white kid was doing it, some people asked questions, but nobody tried to stop him or called the police. When the black kid was doing it, many people intervened and tried to stop him, and called the police.

Both of them were wearing the same kind of clothes, gave the same answers to questions, etc. The only difference was their skin color.

It was completely obvious they were trying to steal it, and they didn't try to hide the fact. They had bolt cutters, hacksaws, and the white kid at one point escalated to a power saw.

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Satirical 1 year, 11 months ago

How could I have been blind for so long...it isn't the African American communities' problem there is so much black on black crime, or "so much of (their) music is a song of violence and crime." It's my fault. Now I see it...every bad decision an individual makes, and every problem of every minority race isn't because of personal choice, or due to single parent households, it is because of White Society.

Thank you for showing me the light Mr. Pitts. And without any facts, or hardly even an anecdote to back up you accusation, I will dip into the Liberal golden rule to justify your irrationality (i.e. others are to blame for my problems).

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Satirical 1 year, 11 months ago

Another typically liberal Pitts article. Making crazy assumption without backing it up with facts, "(t)hat no such alternate possibilities seem to have occurred to Zimmerman for even an instant..."; and "...ours is a nation so obscenely comfortable in conflating black with crime..."

No wonder liberals love Pitts. He blames society for the act of one person (i.e. doesn't believe in individual responsibility); and makes wild accusations about how society connects "blacks" and crime, without a shred of data (i.e. makes conclusion based on emotion rather than facts). I think I am beginning to understand liberals' appeal.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 11 months ago

"You" said it Pitts.

The "stereotype" is at fault.

With this Pitts canard you'd think he doesn't believe in "actions speak louder than words".

You know. Pitts should convey this pearl of wisdom to Somalia, or Detroit, or Haiti.... It's a "stereotype" that is causing all the crime. If Pitts could just tell these places it's a "stereotype" causing all the problems, millions of lives will be saved.

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grammaddy 1 year, 11 months ago

Amen!! Thank you for another wonderful piece.

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