“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”
-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire
I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life. Clerks have followed me around stores countless times. I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years). I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning. Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend. He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store. He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black. (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?) The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me. The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window. His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration. They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me skeptical.
But I digress. My point is, most black men have stories like these. It’s just the reality of life in America. I typically don’t give it much thought.
But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore. I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay. Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.
I mean, what the hell is that? This is America, right?
We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid. If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black. If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty. And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead. And it will be your fault.
Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary. It’s got nothing at all to do with race. It’s just happenstance. Again.
The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race. Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place. Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him. Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.
But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.
Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal. Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.
Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand. Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights. And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.
The fact is, this whole thing stinks. And it hurts. If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.
I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling, unfortunately.
I know. Everyone has to deal with racism. But let’s be honest here. America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.
Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.
Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government. This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes. So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.
The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion. And bullies hate a fair fight. They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.
When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.
It’s bullshit. And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.
The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race. A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.
I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books. They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is. They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions. And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life. Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.
That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States. Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.
More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue. There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more. Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.
Of course, this is only my dream.
We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America. Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed. There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones. Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing. It’s unpleasant. But we can’t let that deter us.
We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.
And boycott Florida.