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Geraldo Rivera Tries to Bring the Focus Back on Trayvon Martin’s ‘Thug Wear’

Only two people know how the confrontation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman got started—and one of them is dead.

That didn’t stop television commentator Geraldo Rivera from spouting a theory as if it were fact.

Last week on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Rivera said Martin’s “thug wear” made the teenager look suspicious—and a target for attack.

O’Reilly brought up the autopsy results that found Martin had trace amounts of marijuana in his system, implying it might show that Martin indeed was some sort of threat to Zimmerman and the greater community. Although he failed to mention, as NewsOne pointed out, that a medic’s report indicated Zimmerman was on a prescription drug shown to sometimes cause anxiety attacks and other serious side effects.

“I think what’s far more significant is what Trayvon Martin looked like on that night, Bill,” Rivera told O’Reilly. “Aside from the fact that he’s dressed in that thug wear—look at the size of him, he’s not a little kid.”

According to the autopsy report, Martin was 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 158 pounds. Seminole County Sheriff’s Office booking information listed Zimmerman as 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 185 pounds.

Rivera also said that Martin looked “just like the people who had been burglarizing and victimizing that neighborhood for the last six months.”

Now granted, I have not read the crime reports for that community for the period in question, but one of the things I learned early on as a journalist was that a general description of a criminal is of little service to the police or the community.

A tall, slim, black man with a hoody could be any one of thousands of young black men in just about any neighborhood at any time. I was always trained to ask how tall is tall? Was he light or dark? What color pants was he wearing? Was there anything distinctive about the alleged assailant? A scar? A limp? The color of his sneakers or some logo or word emblazoned across the hooded sweatshirt?

Too often police descriptions of suspects were too broad. Besides clothing described as light or dark rather than a specific color and race without indication of skin tone, the height range could be a half foot or more; weight could vary by 20-30 pounds and age could range from late teens to early 30s, with no distinctive details. That pretty much covered just about any black man, anytime, anywhere. Journalists were urged to avoid descriptions that were so generic that it might not jog the memory of a potential witness.

And then, of course, the reporter doesn’t draw conclusions but simply lays out the information. So far, witness reports released to reporters suggest that no one saw all or even the start  of the confrontation that led to Martin being shot dead by Zimmerman, who claimed he was acting in self-defense and who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in the case.

Rivera’s argument is a twisted version of the expression “clothes make the man.”  So by his reasoning if a young man dresses in a way that another person assumes is threatening, ergo, the young man is a threat. Conversely, if that is the case, does that mean anyone in a suit and tie, a priest’s collar or a nun’s habit is always above suspicion? Victims of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church scandals around the country may beg to differ.

Rivera, who was once a well-respected investigative reporter (and who also has a law degree), appears to have given up traditional journalism, but does that obligate him to give up logic and reason, too?

One would hope not, but then maybe that’s expecting too much from a man who once had fat from his butt injected into his forehead to get rid of wrinkles.

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