Last month, teenager Trayvon Martin, armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, was gunned down by Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman. Trayvon is no longer with us, and Zimmerman currently roams free. Whenever these tragedies occur, they force us to take a grim look at race in America; an issue which most try to avoid at all cost.
Zimmerman made a call to the Sanford Police Department to report a suspicious looking black teenage male wearing a hoody and pants. What was so suspicious about someone wearing a hoody in the rain? Apparently the behavior was enough to place Zimmerman on high alert.
Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher’s command and Neighborhood Watch protocol, pursuing the teenage boy who did not seem to pose any threat. Neighborhood Watch does not permit volunteers to carry guns. Had Zimmerman followed commands, a senseless death may have been avoided. Whether Zimmerman is racist is up for debate, however, Trayvon Martin was racially profiled. Here lies the danger of profiling based on race.
Zimmerman, who initiated the encounter by stalking and approaching the boy, has claimed self-defense in the shooting. The fact that the Sanford police accepted his story so easily, despite the recordings and witness claims, is an outrage. If you were a teenage boy being followed by a car, and then approached by a strange man, would you not defend yourself? There is no place for vigilante justice in a nation of law and order. Zimmerman and the willfully incompetent Sanford Police Department, which has botched the investigation from the beginning, must be held accountable.
The Sanford police commissioner believes that if Trayvon could relive that night again, he would do things differently. His statement begs the question of what exactly Trayvon could have done differently. Maybe he should have worn a business suit, walked with both hands straight in the air repeating, “I am not a criminal.” Maybe he should have just abandoned his right to take a walk to the store and stayed inside that night.
It seems as if certain instances of injustice are overlooked in an effort to avoid tension, yet they provide the reverse effect. People who mention racial issues are deemed to be trouble makers and “race card” wielders. Citizens must take a stand and demand justice be served. The Sanford Police Department has already proved unwilling to perform its duty. Public awareness has already gotten the FBI involved.
This is the life of the black man in America. Black men not only have to walk the straight path, they have to work overtime in order to appear non-threatening. Many have mastered the art of decreasing the bass in their voices without knowing it. The most uncomfortable experience is seeing someone clutch their belongings as you walk by or being hounded as you browse a store. These experiences can have psychological effects. Racism in America must continue to be addressed. Great strides have been made, but things can be better.
I am concerned with race. My concern is not my being stuck in a slave mentality; it is simply the reality which history and present has created. Personally, I shift between feelings of not caring what anyone thinks, to wanting to prove the stereotypes wrong. I am not an individual. I am a representative of my race. It is my duty to present an altered image to the stereotype. It is my burden as a black man.