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The Cost of Sanctimony

Bill Keller of the NYT calls hate crimes laws a “costly form of sanctimony.” [1]Excerpt from his essay:

The shooting of Trayvon Martin has become a cause before it is even a case. It’s natural to admire the resolute grace of his grieving parents and to endorse their demand for answers Florida authorities have been slow to provide. It’s commendable to shine the lamp of shame on Florida’s absurdly permissive gun laws. (This, remember, is the state that tried last year to make it a crime for doctors to talk to patients about the dangers of guns [2] in the home.) But fashioning a narrative from the hate-crimes textbook — bellowing analogies to the racist nightmares of Birmingham and Selma, as the reliably rabble-rousing Reverend Sharpton has done — is just political opportunism. This is the kind of demagoguery that could prejudice a prosecution, or mobilize a mob. Is it not creepy, by the way, that Spike Lee was tweeting [3] the suspected home address of George Zimmerman? As if to say, “Go get him!” (Lee sent apologies and a check to the elderly couple who were scared from their home because, oops, the tweet gave the wrong address. But apparently it’s O.K. to terrorize Zimmerman.)

A friend of mine and I were talking over the weekend about the Martin case. Like me, he thinks an outside investigation into how this case was handled is warranted. Like me, he’s upset over the bonfire of racialist outraged stoked by Sharpton and his ilk. “Zimmerman is toast,” my friend said. “Even if he’s not guilty, he will have to spend every day for the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.”

I did too, for about a week, thanks in large part to Sharpton, who is a wicked, wicked man. In the summer of 2001, I wrote an ill-advised column for the New York Post about the death of the pop star Aaliyah. My editors at the paper asked me if I agreed with them that the big public funeral they were having, including closing off a big stretch of Park Avenue, if memory serves, was over the top for a young singer. I did agree. They asked me to write a column about it. I did, and used the Aaliyah excesses as a jumping off point to talk about how, in my view, we overvalued celebrity deaths (I mentioned, for example, the hysteria over Rudolph Valentino’s funeral), and didn’t pay enough attention to the deaths of men and women who had accomplished a lot of real good in life. I still believe that basic point, but it was mean to have brought Aaliyah into it. It was an insensitive column, and I regret having written it.

Anyway, the switchboard at the Post literally shut down for all the angry calls, stoked by black radio DJs that morning. I had 210 voice mail messages waiting for me when I got to the office. They were almost all full of profanity, and a surprise amount of anti-Semitism, including threats about what the callers, all of whom had black accents, were going to do to my Jew ass. There were several death threats, including a chilling one from a male caller who said something along the lines of, “We know what you look like, and we know where you work. We are going to be waiting for you. You will not see us coming. We are going to cut your throat.”

Well, of course they knew what I looked like. My picture ran with my column. And of course they knew where the newspaper’s office was. The paper had to beef up security outside the building. Sharpton, of course, got involved, and started pumping the thing up on his radio show and elsewhere. Coming to and from work on the subway over the next couple of days, I kept my head down. Every time a black man got within 10 feet of me, I thought, “Could this be one of the people who made the death threat?” My editors suggested that I take some time off and stay at home. I stayed in my apartment for a week, not going anywhere, hoping and praying that nobody would find out where I lived and come harm me or my family. I listened to Al Sharpton denounce me on his radio broadcast, and announce his intention to escalate the campaign against me and the paper. On local cable access on night, I watched a young black man speaking to a mob inside a club, or so it looked like, telling them that he had called Rod Dreher on the phone to talk to him, and Rod Dreher said  that black people could go screw themselves, or something along those lines. Completely invented. The crowd went wild with anger. The man ended up by leading them in a chant of “Kill Giuliani!”

Recounting this for you now, I think that this must sound so over the top that it must be an invention. I assure you it was not. The left-liberal commentator Katha Pollitt, while calling my column cruel (a fair judgment, actually), snarked in her Nation column [4] at the time, “I can’t think of a more important issue than celebrity funerals for a self-described national black leader to be addressing right now!” It was ridiculous to Pollitt, but for me, I couldn’t leave the house without fearing that somebody under the influence of Sharpton would Freddie’s Fashion Mart [5] me. If you know Sharpton’s role in provoking that racially charged massacre, you know that my fears were not silly.

How was the case resolved? 9/11. Seriously, the 9/11 attacks, which happened while this was going on, gave New York something else to talk about. I don’t know how it would have ended otherwise. And I had not killed a black teenager in a complicated situation, like Zimmerman has. I had only written a lighthearted column poking fun at a black celebrity’s funeral. Yet Sharpton was turning it into a racial showdown, one involving multiple death threats, which, while not coming directly from him, he did nothing to discourage. In fact, he turned the rhetoric up. He’s an evil man. I am sorry to see Trayvon Martin’s family get involved with that snake. No good will come of this.

Even if you believe Zimmerman is guilty, you should be appalled that racists like Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, and others think it’s okay to terrorize Zimmerman. But Zimmerman is not the first person Sharpton, Inc., has attempted to terrorize. This is how he works. It’s been obvious for years to anyone with eyes to see.

63 Comments (Open | Close)

63 Comments To "The Cost of Sanctimony"

#1 Comment By Polichinello On April 3, 2012 @ 9:12 am


MBrown answered my point. My only correction is that it was ABC, not CBS, that ran the video.

So, in the best case for Zimmerman, there is shared culpability, and Zimmerman should probably be convicted of some kind of wrongful death charge.

This may be true. Myself, Rod and others cite Bonfire of the Vanities, and that novel is a good parallel. But as Steve Sailer noted, the protagonist, Sherman McCoy was not completely innocent either. So, Zimmerman could be in the same situation.

That said, Zimmerman’s story is that he was going back to his SUV when he was attacked. IF that is true, then he really is legally innocent. Again, that’s assuming Zimmerman’s story is the right story, which none of here can judge.

#2 Comment By Polichinello On April 3, 2012 @ 9:17 am

There are other reasons, but this is the main—the visceral—one. You guys glory in cruelty; sometimes you appear to glory in cruelty for its own sake.

SWPL, please. Liberals take second to no one in the personal cruelty department when they pick a target. Every name, caricature and insult is dragged out to belittle people and large swathes of population to advance their cause.

#3 Comment By Mitchell Young On April 3, 2012 @ 9:38 am

“Yes, and his plan was to turn over forces to the aRVN forces, what Creighton Abrams tried.”


#4 Comment By Bar Bill On April 3, 2012 @ 9:43 am

If Zimmerman actually went to bat for Sherman Ware against the son of a Sanford cop in 2010 it takes a lot of steam out of the Sharpton Express. If true, it appears the Sanford cops would have more then enough incentive to throw the book at Zimmerman if they could, so obviously they can’t.

#5 Comment By MBrown On April 3, 2012 @ 11:19 am

If it is true that Zimmerman was heading back to his SUV and was attacked by Martin, had his nose broken, and had his head beat against the sidewalk a couple times, then I would probably agree that Zimmerman is largely free of responsibility for Martin’s death. That sequence of events makes it entirely plausible that he did not instigate a physical confrontation, and that he reasonably feared for his life (if you go unconscious in a fight and there is a gun present, all bets are off, so Zimmerman had to not allow himself to be knocked out).

Zimmerman would still be stupid for confronting Martin unnecessarily (and he’ll have to live with that), but I don’t see any way of understanding that sequence of events that leads me to believe that Zimmerman confronting Martin had to inevitably lead to a physical confrontation. If Zimmerman is telling the truth (and we have no solid evidence to believe that he isn’t), then the responsibility for the physical confrontation lies nearly entirely with Martin, as the initial confrontation was effectively ended when Zimmerman turned and headed back to his SUV.

#6 Comment By Franklin Evans On April 3, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

Ax: Speaking strictly for myself but suggesting it may be true of Rod, it’s possible that my phrasing prompted you to a personal reaction where my intention was more general. I’m glad you pointed it out. Nothing can replace in-person cues for clarity.

So maybe the Trayvon advocates aren’t the only ones letting their anger and emotions get the better of them.

I believe that is a valid caution in any intense topic, and worth repeating as often as may be needed.

There’s plenty of caused cruelty in the ether to point a valid finger at fill-in-the-blank. That’s equally true for hubris, arrogance and stupidity. 🙁

#7 Comment By Franklin Evans On April 3, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

MBrown, I must respectfully take exception to your speculative statement: There are plenty of stupid things kids do, but I can’t think of a single one of them that exclude a weapon as worthy of being fatal at the hands of another person. If, as you seem to suggest, Martin’s state of mind and bad choices (and don’t get me wrong, he made several of them) are admissible as mitigating factors in charging Zimmerman, I’d have to join some conservatives in calling our society a fallen one.

#8 Comment By cirdan On April 3, 2012 @ 12:31 pm


It strikes me, also, that there’s room for research into conservative reactions to the deaths of prominent black women. I’m just thinking of your choosing to be mean in this instance, and some of the things I’ve seen on conservative websites (Fox commentators were pretty bad, but there’s worse available elsewhere) about Whitney Houston. The vehemence and crudity of the attacks demand attention.

#9 Comment By MBrown On April 3, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

Franklin Evans –

I’m not saying that an unarmed youth ever *deserves* to be killed, or that he was worthy of being fatally shot.

The question is whether Zimmerman was legally justified in his use of force. If Zimmerman’s story is true, then he likely was justified in that use of force, because it was legitimate for him, in that case, to fear for his life.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know, which I think is the problem with the way the Florida self-defense laws are written – they allow too much leeway for considerations that are altogether subjective on the part of the person claiming self-defense.

#10 Comment By Sands On April 3, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

“I really do not get this feverish Zimmeriman-worship you and certain other posters.”

Have you ever stopped to think that what you consider ‘feverish Zimmerman-worship’ is more like an innocent attempt to get at the truth? Some of us are not willing to sit on a high horse 1000+ miles away and render a verdict based on evidence presented to us by a for-profit media. Fair enough?

#11 Comment By Rod Dreher On April 3, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

Google a bit, check the Ta Nehesi Coates update, go to the City of Sanford website and check the 911 calls yourself, whatever, but – that was a widely circulated typo.
Zimmerman made 46 calls from January 2004 to the present, not from Jan 2011. As a neighborhood watch kind of guy, that might be a bit less paranoid.

Well, I agree — but I have been googling for a couple of days now, trying to confirm what you’re claiming, and I can’t. I will be happy to back off the “paranoid” allegation if you can substantiate what you’re saying here. I agree that that number of calls over a longer period of time seems normal to me. But I can’t find anything to back you up. If you have a link, post it, and I’ll put it on the main blog.

#12 Comment By Franklin Evans On April 3, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

MBrown: Thanks for the clarification. You and I are in agreement on every principle point.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 5, 2012 @ 1:24 am

Please don’t bring up Ebonics, unless you have some plausible evidence that such a language exists. Having relied on public transporation in five major cities and several smaller ones, I can argue at some length that it is figment of the imagination of those who wished to create a unified “black” identity, which did not exist prior to the homogenizing influence of BET, and/or sought advancement to the highest levels of intellectual attainment by the simple expedient of defining whatever a kid already knew as the paragon of what was required for a diploma.

Stromberg’s elucidation and reference sources on the subject of “black accent” (a very different thing from an Ebonic language), is quite helpful. I wouldn’t discount Mitchell’s contributions on the subject either. One does not have to deny minor differences in the shape of the nasal orifices (especially if they exist) in order to reject the flawed thesis of The Bell Curve. There were many English dialects and accents before the Great Diaspora to America, Australia, etc., which overlapped in various ways. Words from one might be mixed with accents from another. Natives of West Africa are easily distinguishable from African Americans by the pronounced British accent of many of the former. Bottom line: Africans brought to America first learned English from indentured servants, most of them from Devon, or points immediately north and west. Massachusetts, on the other hand, was settled by East Anglians.