Jul 13, 2013

As we await the verdict of the Zimmerman second-degree murder trial, the topic of racial profiling has been widely discussed.  Many believe that it is at the heart of this case.  Zimmerman and his defense team say Trayvon Martin fit the description of the men who had committed crimes in the area. Thus it wasn't some farfetched suspicion that Zimmerman held of the teenager.  So when white people are wrongly accused of racism because those who were and continue to be racists just so happen to be other white people they have no reason to be offended because it's not some farfetched suspicion.  That doesn't feel too good now does it?  But according to Mark O'Mara's closing argument, there was nothing wrong with the conclusion George Zimmerman drew about Trayvon Martin.  Those of us who have been on the losing side of profiling cannot help but be aghast at this notion.  Such profiling is not ok!

Yet it is was we do.  Yes profiling is what we do in our daily lives.  You never get another chance to make a first impression.  Well why not?  Why is the first impression so lasting?  Who deemed the first impression so accurate?  You may be thinking my line of the thinking may be a stretch.  Stay with me though.  We are conditioned to peg people.  We are condition to size people up as soon as we meet them, even before we meet them based on what others have said about them.  What prompted me to sit down and type this was listening to the news about this trial and they were trying to presume the verdict based on the little we know about the jury.  That is profiling.  Someone on Twitter said I must be the most positive person in the world to think this jury would return with a conviction.  Why assume the worst about the jury at the outset? If there is an acquittal those that want a conviction, particularly black people, have been profiled as rioters.  Law enforcement is already on alert.  Despite the fact that the protests held in pursuit of justice for Trayvon have been lawful, peaceful, and without incident.  Yet black folks are pegged as rioters should there been an acquittal.  Why automatically assume the worst? Isn't that what Zimmerman did to Trayvon?

I'm not trying to act like I have it all together.  However, I learned some lessons pretty early on due to people misreading me and quite frankly discovering that some assumptions I made about others turned out to be wrong.  As a result, I have trained myself to not stop at the first impression.  I have since learned that one of my strengths is relating to people.  First impressions, both good and bad ones, tend to make me curious and want to know more about the person behind that first impression.  Usually I am glad that I did not stop at that first impression.  Had I stopped at my assumptions, I would not have met and interacted with some fascinating people.

I do not know what it is about our human nature that we have to beat someone to the punch.  We want to call it before it occurs.  There is some benefit to criminal profiling.  Yet it is a human practice that is not error-proof.  For as long as the Patriot Act is the law of the land, there will always be a debate about its limitations.  For as long as Stop and Frisk is practiced, the public should be on edge.  The law/policy is only as good as the person executing and enforcing it.  We all know that not everyone can be trusted with that level of authority and responsibility.

Again I ask why do we do this?  What do we have to gain by profiling?  Consumer profiling is used for sales and marketing.  Law enforcement uses criminal profiling to either solve or prevent crimes.  But what good comes from the personal profiling we do everyday?  Racism, bias, and prejudice is not illegal.  When discrimination or other crimes result from racism, bias, and prejudice then we have a problem.  In other words acting on  racist thoughts, biased feelings and  prejudiced assumptions can get a person in trouble with the law because they have caused harm to or unfairlt treated the target of their disdain.  This is precisely what I find troublesome about an acquittal in the Zimmerman trial.  George Zimmerman may not have set out to kill Trayvon Martin, but he did not have Trayvon's best interests at heart.  In just watching the 17-year old walk down the street, he called the police.  He was convinced of the teenager's guilt within seconds.  To this day, Zimmerman probably has convinced himself that what he has done was the right thing to do.  I guess to believe the alternative would be just too much for him to bear.  Though just the slightest consideration of the alternative on the evening of February 26, 2012 would not have set in motion the events that lead to me writing this piece.

The black community and other minorities understand all too well the risky proposition of profiling.  We are steadily facing legal battles with law enforcement for their abuse of power.  It is a heavy and unnecessary burden to bear to seek protection from those that should be protecting us.  An acquittal would add to this burden by allowing virtually any person to act on unfounded suspicion with little to no accountability, especially if the victim is black.  By contrast, a conviction will send the message that while profiling might be what we do, acting upon it should be something to think long and hard about.  If George Zimmerman had done so, then perhaps we would be now celebrating an 18-year old high school graduate named Trayvon Martin, instead of seeking justice on his behalf.

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