If you listen to conservatives, they’d have you believe we live in a post-racial America. After all, look at Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby. We’ve got a black president, right?
With the February 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, we’re again forced to realize that we don’t live in a post-racial America… And when I say “we” I mean the white male dominated mainstream “we” – because for blacks and Hispanics the reality of a “post-racial” America has been all too evident and obvious for years.
Martin was a 17-year old boy who was returning home from a run to a convenience store. George Zimmerman, a member of his neighborhood watch, spotted Martin and called 911. While with the 911 operator, Zimmerman described Martin as “up to no good” and guessed that the kid might’ve been on drugs. According to the 911 tape, Zimmerman took off after Martin after the teen started to run. Then the details get a bit murky – witnesses who called 911 recall screams and a shot. The screams were described by some as pleas for help.
Zimmerman wasn’t arrested. He claimed self-defence.
The incident took place in Sanford, Florida, a city close to Orlando. Sanford’s had a history of racial tension – most notably between the police and its black residents – a son of a police officer was caught on tape beating up a black homeless man, but was initially spared prosecution (he was later arrested); a police officer working as a parking lot security guard shot a black teen, Travares McGill, claiming self-defense – the case was dismissed in court.
Trayvon Martin was unarmed when shot by Zimmerman – he had a bag of Skittles and a can of soda.
According to the tapes, Martin’s crime was walking through the neighborhood and looking at the buildings. I don’t claim to be George Zimmerman, but I wonder if he felt uncomfortable seeing a young black male walking through his neighborhood. He claimed in his 911 call that Martin must’ve been up to no good – nothing in the reports so far support Zimmerman’s claims that there was probable cause for him to suspect Martin of anything.
For black men, this story brings back a tragic and unfortunate reality – the misconception that black men are dangerous or predatory. Michael W. Waters wrote a fantastic article, “A Painful (Yet Familiar) Ritual” in which he discusses how he was raised with a heightened awareness of how others will perceive him because of his race and gender, and how he must prepare his son for this awareness, too. It’s a sad story – one in which a kid will have to grow up in a culture that creates, supports and breeds mistrust about him just because he’s black.
For the family of Trayvon Martin, 2012 isn’t a world of post-racial America. For them, this is an America that existed ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago, fifty years ago, and so on…This is a world where a black man’s death doesn’t warrent the same kind of attention or outrage – because many of us have grown calloused to crime, to many Martin’s just was just another black kid getting shot.
For many well-intentioned white liberals, this story is shocking, maybe surprising. In 2012? With a black president this can still happen? The sobering truth is that black male juvenile deaths as a result of gun violence has only grown in the last decade. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, black teens are five times as likely to be killed by guns than their white counterparts. Without attention to this story as well as attention to the problems of race relations, Martin will become just another number or statistic – and that’s unacceptable.