We Shouldn't Make Excuses For Racism

Friday morning on Fox and Friends, Geraldo Rivera stated, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was." The Twitterverse exploded, pointing out the absurdity of the statement, and he doubled down on O'Reilly Factor later that day. He also tweeted several defensive tweets about the statement. And now has offered a non-apology apology which does not go far enough.

The comments are sickening. Rivera's statement is nothing short of victim blaming. Let's be clear, no victim should ever be blamed. His absurd logic implies that if you are black and wear a hoodie, you look suspicious so you should expect to be harassed by overzealous men with guns. That's the same as presuming a women should expect to be raped if her skirt is too short. Or a gay man should expect to be gay bashed if he has a drink in a bar mostly patronized by straight people. Why is it an accepted belief that some victims ask for violence to be brought upon them? On its face, and in every way, this is ridiculous.

The truth is, there is no excuse for violence. No matter what Martin was wearing, there is no excuse for his death. And something as ubiquitous as a hoodie has nothing to do with why the crime was perpetrated. To imply that Martin's clothing helped lead to his death makes a dangerous excuse for Zimmerman's behavior.

Many details are still unknown because Florida's dangerous "Shoot First" law has allowed Martin's killer to go free. What we do know is that Martin was innocent of any crime, unarmed, pursued by a man who was suspicious of black people, who called the police and was told to stop following him. But because of this law, racially biased crimes like this are allowed to go unpunished and even uninvestigated.

The slaying of Trayvon Martin is disturbingly reminiscent of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi. Till was a 14 year-old boy, who, like Martin, was visiting from out of town when he was murdered. Martin's so-called "suspicious behavior" was to wear a hooded sweatshirt; Till's was to appear to flirt with a white woman by whistling at her.

Till was taken in the night from his great uncle's house and brutally killed by the woman's husband and brother-in-law. His mother chose to have his mangled body displayed in an open casket to the public, to make sure people across the country understood what racism had done to her son. While thousands across the country and, indeed, across the world, rallied in support of justice, institutional racism won the day: the murderers were acquitted after a mere week-long trial and little more than an hour of deliberation. The next year, the men admitted in a magazine interview they killed the boy. Having already been acquitted of both the murder and the kidnapping, they could no longer be prosecuted.

For Rivera to take the facts of the Trayvon Martin case, which clearly indicate that Martin was targeted by Zimmerman merely because he was black, and say that Martin deserved to be considered suspicious because of his innocuous choice of clothing is no different than supporting the killing. Rivera owes Martin's family, the black community, and our grieving nation an apology. Can Rivera really defend his views, even in the face of evidence that reveals racism was wholly and completely to blame for the killing of one of our nation's children?

It seems there is no shame in sensationalist television, only dollars. And as long as those dollars considered more important than saying the right thing, wildly irresponsible and even dangerous statements will help to bolster the racism our country has long struggled with while Fox and Friends reap the benefits. Racism exists in 21st century America, and there is no excuse. Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black. Whether he was wearing a hoodie or not, or whether Emmett Till actually whistled at a white woman in 1955, is entirely beside the point. Shame on you, Geraldo Rivera. And shame on us for allowing racism to go unchecked. Until we acknowledge systemic racism and how Rivera's blame-the-victim mentality fuels it, we won't be able to stop such insane violence from happening.