Religion & Beliefs

Michael Vick, NAACP, and Community Defense

I should come right out and say that I think Michael Vick is guilty. There’s so much evidence that points to his guilt that I don’t feel particularly bad saying that, though it helps that I never heard of Vick … Read More

By / August 1, 2007

I should come right out and say that I think Michael Vick is guilty. There’s so much evidence that points to his guilt that I don’t feel particularly bad saying that, though it helps that I never heard of Vick before he got in this mess for organizing and bankrolling dogfights. Yesterday, for reasons that were never made crystal clear, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP spoke out for Vick:

R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media and prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.

"If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime, but to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime," White said at a news conference. "Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed."

Full Story Nothing that White said is particularly offensive or controversial. Certainly I think that Vick deserves a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty. All Americans get that same treatment, and it shouln’t be denied to Vick. What I’d like to know is why the NAACP is suddenly having press conferences about this. Why do they feel they need to take Vick’s back? Because he’s black? Is that really a good enough reason to offer him support? This brings up larger issues of just whom we’re obligated to defend and support. We see ourselves in groups of us and them, and we tend to come to the defense of people in our own groups, but when should that end? When should we take a step back and say, “I don’t want to be associated with this”? Or are we just bound to our groups no matter what, and thus are obligated to stay loyal until the end? I was thinking about this same issue over Shabbat as I discussed my general discomfort with the glorification of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, who is known to have sexually assaulted and molested scores of women during his career as a musician, spiritual leader and rabbi. What alarms me most about the phenomenon surrounding Carlebach is the way some people insist it’s not important, or that it doesn’t or shouldn’t overshadow Carlebach’s lifework. For the life of me, I don’t really understand the people who come to defend Carlebach (those who say they don’t consider him a religious role model, but enjoy his music are less problematic to me, though I still don’t agree). I doubt these people would be such ardent supporters if it were their mother, daughter or sister who had been victim to Carlebach’s advances and/or assaults. But it seems that for many people, defending someone in their community, regardless as to whether or not he’s guilty, is commendable, if not necessary for community survival. Spiritually I see no excuse for the behavior of the NAACP, or for Carlebach supporters. We have a responsibility to be honest to ourselves, and to take care of ourselves. How can a community, be it ethnic, racial, political or religious, insist on rushing to the defense of every member, even and especially when the member in questions has plenty of money for a superstar attorney? Why defend the honor of someone who seems to have little respect for the dignity of animals? The Torah is full of commandments telling us to uproot the evil from ourselves and from the children of Israel. Indeed, it is the responsibility of a religious community to condemn actions that undermine the morality that is central to religion. I know the NAACP isn’t a religious group, and I respect their desire to protect Vick from some of the dirt being thrown in his direction, but aren’t there other black people in trouble who could use some support more than Vick? Just saying… (Hat tip to Tamar Rubin for the idea for this post.) For more about Carlebach’s nebulous behavior with women, click here.