Mar 22, 2012

First let me say that my deepest condolences go out to the family of Trayvon Martin.  I have brothers who are only a few years older than him and I just cannot imagine the loss his family must be feeling right now.  The tragedy of losing a child at such a young age when he was doing nothing wrong has been compounded by a lack of response from a justice system that purports to protect the rights of American citizens.  Trayvon Martin had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of justice.  His rights were taken away from his as the life seeped out his body through a gun shot wound and his family is entitled to justice and redress through the American legal system.
I found it so ironic that Travyon's death came on the heels of a week of controversy over the meaning of Professor and esteemed legal scholar Derrick Bell's Critical Race Theory.  Personally, I was offended by the fact that people seemed to latch on to the keywords "White Supremacy" without taking the time to read his full analysis or to view in the context of research. I'm not going to try and explain my understanding of Critical Race Theory here  because I don't believe anyone should quote someone else's understanding of the theory.  You should read it for yourself and then determine if you feel it has valid points or not.
That said, one large proponent of CRT is the notion that American law and the justice system have an unspoken acknowledgment of "White Privilege".  The generally accepted definition for the term is that white people have certain unfair and unearned advantages over minorities simply because of the color of their skin.  I am sure I'll get 20 posts in the comment section and even more emails about this definition and you all are just going to have to suck it up because that is what it means.  Now there is more debate about how it manifests itself. I recently read a study about job hiring practices in the United States.  One of the findings in the study was that when a white man and a black man applied with the same education level and experience applied for the same job, the white man was three times more likely to get called back for the interview.  The study also found that even white men who had a criminal record were more likely to be hired for a job than a black man with no criminal history.  That folks, is white privilege.  I'm sure those employers don't consider themselves racist but when it comes to hiring an individual to work for them, if they have a choice they prefer to hire a white person.
Now what does white privilege have to do with Trayvon Martin's death?  I don't know George Zimmerman but I have read, like the rest of you, about what at least appears to be his obsession with law enforcement.  I have also heard the released tape of his call to 911 and read the statements issued by his parents and others in the neighborhood regarding his behavior prior to and on the day of Trayvon's death.  Based on those behaviors and statements, I do believe that George Zimmerman felt "privileged" to behave in a certain manor towards Trayvon.  For example, at the beginning of the recording, Zimmerman has already assumed that Trayvon doesn't belong in the neighborhood... Why??? How could he ascertain just by looking at Trayvon that this kid didn't live there or have a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood including visiting a friend??
Secondly, Zimmerman continues to feel privileged during the 911 conversation.  When the dispatcher asks him if he is following the teen, he replies that he is.  Even after the dispatchers tells him that police do not need him to do that, he continues to follow Trayvon and then according a phone witness gets out of vehicle to then confront Trayvon.  Why did Zimmerman feel that he could disregard the dispatcher's directive? Why did he feel that he the right to confront a person who walking on the sidewalk?  Why did he feel justified in pulling a gun on a kid who had no weapon?
And then there's the aftermath of the shooting.  The police force has been accused of racism in their handling of the case.  I don't feel that they conducted a proper investigation and I do feel that white privilege played a role in that.  They said repeatedly that there was no evidence to discredit Zimmerman's claim that he acted in self defense.  First of all, I'm not even sure that is a call that the police are qualified to make.  Self defense is generally an affirmative defense used by the defense during the course of a trial.  I have seen police make the determination that a shooting was an accident based on trajectory, witness statements etc... and no I have never practiced law in Florida but the fact that the police would classify the shooting of an unarmed person as self-defense without ballistics testing, without speaking to Trayvon's girlfriend, without speaking to the people who called 911 and without first speaking with the State Attorney's office baffles me.  They completely accepted George Zimmerman's account of the event...why??? They have defended the 911 tapes by saying Zimmerman told them he was the one calling for help but the woman who made the call said she didn't believe Zimmerman was the one yelling for help because the cries stopped immediately after the shot.  So why wasn't Zimmerman detained or arrested until the determination could be made or until there was a complete investigation?? Because Zimmerman is being given an unfair and unearned advantage.
Although, I do hope and pray that Trayvon's parents get justice for the death of their son, we all know nothing can bring him back.  Nothing rights this wrong but we do need to be looking to all the Trayvon's of the future and making sure that they do not meet the same end.  The question is how..
At work, we are encouraged to participate in community service events and this week we were at a junior high school when a seventh grader asked why someone would have the right to shoot him.  The lawyer that was speaking at the time and fielded the question replied that no one really had the right to shoot him unless he had "attacked" the other person first.  The boy responded, "No, all they have to do is say that I look threatening. How do I keep from looking threatening to you?"  Of course as the only minority adult in the room, the gazes from the panel all shifted to me.  I then shifted my gaze to the wall.  After the event was over, the male lawyer said to me that I could have helped him out with that question.  He's probably almost fifteen years older than me and I know he has teenage children.  So I asked him if his children owned sweat shirts or jackets with hoods and he said yes.  I asked him if anyone had ever described them as threatening when they wore them.  He laughed because the idea was ridiculous, he said those jackets are simply a fashion trend.  I agreed, then asked him if he had ever seen a Black man in one and felt "threatened".  He was quiet and then asked me if I was implying that he was racist.  I said no but that kid was asking you why is he threatening when he wears a hoodie but your kids aren't... I didn't help you because I don't know the answer to that question.  I only know that Trayvon Martin is dead because a Black kid in a hoodie is "up to no good".
As far as I'm concerned, we can continue to be sensitive and defensive about terms like white privilege, white supremacy, racism, affirmative action, etc or we can have an open and honest discussion about race in America, acknowledge that there are inconsistencies and that work needs to be done, or we'll just watch our society further deteriorate.


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