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Washington Post Defends Richard Cohen Column Justifying Trayvon Martin Profiling

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RICHARD COHEN TRAYVON MARTIN
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20: Exterior view of the Washington Post building on L street on February, 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images) | Getty

NEW YORK -- The Washington Post is defending the publication of a column Tuesday that argues George Zimmerman was justified in being suspicious of Trayvon Martin on the night he stalked and killed the unarmed teenager because Martin was wearing a hoodie -– a “uniform we all recognize," according to the column.

“I’m tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist,” wrote longtime Post columnist Richard Cohen. “The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.”

Politico later asked Cohen about the hoodie "uniform" he had described Martin as wearing the night he was killed.

"It's what's worn by a whole lot of thugs," Cohen said. "Look in the newspapers, online or on television: you see a lot of guys in the mugshots wearing hoodies."

Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of second-degree murder Saturday night, a verdict that has sparked outrage and protests around the country. The decision continues to be discussed and debated on cable news, on social media and in newspaper opinion pages like the Post's.

Cohen's column drew sharp criticism and mockery online Tuesday.

"Richard Cohen’s not a racist, he just thinks it’s reasonable to assume young black men are all criminals," tweeted Slate's Matt Yglesias.

"I totally recognize the hoodie uniform," tweeted The Washington Post's own Ezra Klein. "I wore it at UC Santa Cruz. Weirdly, no one thought I was dangerous."

"Washington Post is scared of young black men," tweeted Circa editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa.

And Washington City Paper editor Mike Madden tweeted his own summation of the piece: "Post columnist Richard Cohen: '... I am a racist.'"

The Washington Post's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, defended running the column in an email to The Huffington Post on Tuesday.

"If I had not published the column, just as many people would be asking why the Post can’t tolerate diverse points of view," Hiatt said.

"I think if people want a 'conversation about race,' as is frequently suggested, they should be open to a range of views and perspectives. We already have published multiple such views -- not only Richard Cohen’s, but Gene Robinson on the same page, Ruth Marcus and Jonathan Capehart and our own editorial the day before -- and we’ve got more coming," Hiatt continued. "If people don’t like a particular opinion, my feeling is they should respond to it, not seek to stifle it."

Robinson's column this week -- "Black boys denied right to be young" -- could serve as an antidote to Cohen's justification for being suspicious of Martin.

"Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent," Robinson wrote. "Black boys in this country are not allowed to be children" but "are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace," he added.

"I don’t know if the jury, which included no African Americans, consciously or unconsciously bought into this racist way of thinking -- there’s really no other word," Robinson continued. "But it hardly matters, because police and prosecutors initially did."

This isn’t the first time Cohen has come under fire for making insensitive comments about young black men. In September 1986, the Post was criticized for the cover story of its Sunday magazine -- on a drug-related murder in Washington, D.C. -- and Cohen’s column within its pages.

“About two dozen people gathered in front of The Washington Post's downtown building yesterday morning to protest what they termed 'negative stereotyping' of blacks in the premiere issue of the newspaper's redesigned Sunday magazine," the Post reported back then.

A UPI article at the time described Cohen as having “side[d] with city jewelry store owners who refuse[d] to allow young black men to enter their shops because of a fear of crime.”

The Post offered an apology the following month for both the cover story and for Cohen’s column.

This article has been updated to include Cohen's response to Politico.

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