10:04 PM CDT, March 26, 2012
The New Black Panthers and Geraldo Rivera have something in common.
They're both nuts.
And they both show how the rhetoric surrounding the Trayvon Martin case can veer off the path of impassioned but reasonable discussion and onto a one-way street to Crazy Town.
That's the place where facts and levelheaded voices are drowned out by wild assumptions and irrational arguments.
We've been here before. Remember the circus that erupted over Terri Schiavo? How about Casey Anthony? Even the debate playing out now over health-care reform has extremists who refuse to let the truth and common ground stand in the way of a good partisan food fight.
Before it's all over, Trayvon's death could make the political showboating and media extravaganzas we saw during the Schiavo case, the Casey trial and health-care reform look like sideshows.
Sadly, that could overshadow the heart of the case.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin raises important questions about racial profiling, equal justice and what constitutes self-defense.
For Geraldo, it's about hoodies.
"I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was," Rivera said on Fox News. "You're gonna be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace."
Does Geraldo think that Mark Zuckerberg is a "gangsta wannabe"? The hoodie is a wardrobe staple for the billionaire Facebook founder.
Geraldo's comments on Friday had me wondering if we were headed to Crazy Town.
On Saturday I knew we had arrived. That's when the New Black Panthers, sharing with us their concept of justice, offered a $10,000 bounty for the "capture" of shooter George Zimmerman.
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," leader Mikhail Muhammad said between profanities.
A call for violence by the same people who condemned the violence against Trayvon? How depraved. How irresponsible.
The New Black Panthers are far more concerned with TV time than real justice.
True fairness in this case means a thorough investigation.
But even those demands have indulged in some incendiary language.
On Sunday, speaking at an Eatonville church, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called Trayvon a "martyr," compared his death to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and suggested it could start a new round in the "war" for civil rights.
He and others have repeatedly called for Zimmerman's arrest. Many have insisted Zimmerman committed "murder."
Last week I wrote that it was wrong to call Trayvon's death a murder. It's still wrong. Only a jury can make that call, and Zimmerman hasn't been charged with or convicted of anything.
There are holes in his self-defense claim. There are a lot of unanswered questions.
But the absence of facts doesn't give anyone a license to fill the vacuum with dreck.
Dreck like a photo that made the rounds online, purporting to show an older, stronger and tougher Trayvon Martin, one who could beat up Zimmerman. The photo shows a shirtless teen with his pants slung low, boxer shorts exposed and hands making an obscene gesture.
A site that published the photo, Twitchy Media, which is operated by conservative columnist and Fox contributor Michelle Malkin, later published a correction saying the photo was not of Trayvon and apologized to the Martin family.
The photo was intended to paint a grimmer picture of Trayvon, no doubt.
But like Geraldo's hoodie comment, it's really irrelevant to what happened on the night of Feb. 26.
The investigation must focus on the facts.
Cooler heads didn't prevail that night between Trayvon and Zimmerman. But there's no reason we can't steer the rhetoric back toward reason and sanity.
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