“We should use these incidents of violent racism as teachable moments, reflective moments, and not deflective moments. Our boys and men are guilty on sight because they are Black.” [http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/03/op-ed-stop-using-trayvon-martins-murder-to-discuss-black-on-black-crime/comment-page-2/]
A new report by the Violence Policy Center found Black males in California have a homicide rate more than 14 times that of whites and nearly four times that of Hispanics. The study also found that firearms were used in 84 percent of the 803 homicides of 10 to 24 year-olds in California in 2009. Ninety percent of the victims were male.
On Sunday, August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was taken from his great uncle’s home in the early morning hours and never seen alive again by anyone in his family. On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot on his way back from a convenience store by a self-styled Neighborhood Watch Captain. Nearly half a century has passed, but young Black males are still being murdered with impunity in America.
The murder of Trayvon Martin brought back memories of a horrendous injustice that helped launch the modern civil rights movement. Unlike the historic event, this murder incited nationwide outrage and attracted national news coverage. Black youth are still being murdered, but at least now, many people of all racial backgrounds object.
There is not a satisfactory explanation for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. It is doubtful that there ever will be. Candor requires that all Americans acknowledge that young Black males carry a burden young White males do not. On streets, in stores, in public places, young Black males attract hostility and suspicion from too many based on nothing but their physical appearance.
We may have been ignorant of this phenomenon before, but we can claim ignorance no longer. The national media attention this tragedy has attracted has robbed us of the excuse that we did not know. Even President Obama has acknowledged the presence of this misplaced suspicion when he recalled his grandmother used to cross the street to avoid Black men coming her way. While many White people live lives largely insulated from Black people, there is no rational basis for this widespread suspicion. Black people have suffered far more from the aggression of White people than the other way around.
Apart from the facts, moreover, as Americans we are called by our professed ideals to do better and be far more fair minded. As children, the vast majority of Americans have repeatedly made a pledge that speaks of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Too many of us may have forgotten these words shortly after leaving school, but it is nonetheless a pervasive social ritual. We need to recall our childish selves and reflect upon what we said then. In these “reflective moments,” we need to ask our adult selves, “Does the fate of Trayvon Martin align with liberty and justice for all?” It seems the answer is clear. It does not.
This recognition confronts us with a choice. We can adopt an adult cynicism we almost certainly did not have as children and dismiss the pledge as mere babble. Or we can resolve to be the people we once promised we would be and do everything in our power to make good on the pledge of liberty and justice for all. To begin with we can teach our children well that character has no skin color and citizenship is open to all people born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of its laws. We can further resolve to act in a receptive manner toward all our fellow citizens unless they make clearly threatening gestures or brandish weapons with hostile intent. Additionally, we can rebut claims that people of color are somehow inherently suspicious or particularly dangerous. This is not to imply or suggest that White people should feel guilt because of their skin color. It is to state and insist that White people should not impute suspicion, threat, or guilt to others because of their darker skin color. Determining a person’s acceptability or trustworthiness based on skin color is the very essence of prejudice – prejudging on scant and insufficient evidence. This deranged thinking and feeling must be challenged whenever it rears its ugly head and it must be driven from our collective psyches. Only we can do this.
As JFK said in June 1963, “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” He was right then and his words are true now. If we cannot bring ourselves to resolve to end this scourge with all deliberate speed, then we are lost and our hopes and dreams for the nation are lost as well. This nation for all its flaws and all its scars was founded on the principle of human equality and that the rights of everyone are threatened when the rights of anyone are violated.
Unfortunately, Trayvon Martin was killed by an ingrained suspicion of Black males and a profound indifference to the ravages our prejudices have imposed on citizens of color. This is what must change and change must begin within each of us. This struggle is not Trayvon’s; it is not his family’s struggle; it is not a struggle for Black Americans. This is a struggle for every American of any skin color who has ever felt proud to be an American. If we cannot rally to our founding ideals and summon the better angels of our nature, then our pride is false and our patriotism rings hollow. The rights we take for granted are secure and deserved only so long as we fight to extend and secure these rights for all Americans in every corner of this broad land. The souls we save will be our own.
One thing we can promptly do is sign the Daily Kos petition to the Department of Justice telling them to launch an investigation of the Sanford Police Department: This will not address injustices everywhere, but it will be a start. The link is provided below: http://campaigns.dailykos.com/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=94
Tags: American Ideals, Civil Rights, Emmett Till, Justice, Murder, patriotism, racism, Trayvon Martin