Apr 12, 2012

Despite the divisive nature of the Trayvon Martin shooting controversy, the teen’s death has forced the nation to take notice of how the criminal justice system fails black people.

It should not have taken national protests to force those who are charged with protecting citizens to conclude it was criminal for a self-styled neighborhood watchman to shoot an unarmed teen.

But without those protests, without the intervention of major civil rights figures and without the public advocacy of Trayvon’s mother and father, Trayvon would have been just another young black male shot dead in the street.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor and attorney general, announced that George Zimmerman was finally charged with second-degree murder.

At the time of Corey’s announcement, Zimmerman already was in custody.

The fact that Zimmerman is a white Hispanic and Trayvon was black fueled the perception that Zimmerman reacted out of racial bias, and that made this case even more controversial.

Although Corey denied being influenced by “public pressure” or “petitions,” you can’t ignore the impact protesters have had on this case. Trayvon’s death galvanized African-American communities across the country and motivated a lot of young people of other races to join organized and peaceful demonstrations.

Still, claims of “racially motivated” violence against whites prompted the Rev. Al Sharpton to appeal for calm even before the charge was announced.

“You can’t be more upset than his parents,” Sharpton said. “If they can operate in dignity, then all of us can operate with dignity. To go outside of the justice system is to achieve nothing. What we want is that the justice system is corrected and works.”

Earlier, Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, had described the last 45 days as a nightmare. “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that justice will be served,” she said.

But the national outcry over Trayvon’s killing also subjected the black community to criticism that its priorities were mixed up. After all, young black men kill other young black men for senseless reasons every day and civil rights leaders are mute.

Similarly, while Corey’s ruling will give Trayvon’s family some relief from their agony, the families of too many other black homicide victims often wait in vain.

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