Trayvon Martin, Blacks and Police Here in CT

“I am already teaching him how to act around police officers—and he’s only 8,” a college friend of mine told me.

I’m a smart, progressive, socially aware white woman, and I am ashamed of myself.

Last week I read a Facebook post that my college friend, Chuck, wrote, and I was ashamed that it never occurred to me what he has felt, and will feel, his entire life.

“I support Trayvon Martin. This is my wife's greatest fear for my son, Chas, when he becomes a teenager: being harassed by the police or rogue individuals. I am already teaching Chas how to act around police officers. I have personally been thrown in jail and handcuffed to a prison wall when I was driving a new car in a nice neighborhood. This happened to me when I was in college—an Ivy League school at that. I mean, what decade are we in anyway? This has got to stop! I am talking to all fathers out there. This tragedy can happen to me, my son, your son, anyone's son.”

In a general, intellectual sense I have always known about prejudice and racism, and I’ve understood that the kind of life approach Chuck wrote about is something many people of color have had to embrace out of necessity. Sure, we’ve all got our own personal stories—growing up as a Jewish girl, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I know first-hand about prejudice and the real outcome of the threat of hatred.

But rarely have I made that direct of a connection between such a tragic national story with race at the heart of it, as it did in the Trayvon Martin shooting, as I did in reading the words of my friend. Chuck took the self-portrait you see with this column as a means of standing in solidarity with the Martin family and in respectful, protesting memory of Trayvon’s death.

He also posted this image next to a shot of his own young son, Chas. However, drawing a line to protect some of their privacy, I decided to not include that image with this story in consultation with Chuck. But in seeing Chas’ smiling, sweet, little-boy face, it’s hard not to realize that Trayvon needs to be remembered as a child of mine, of yours and of the world.

What hit home the most is the idea that Chuck would need to teach his son—his beautiful, innocent, 8 year old son—how to speak to police officers so that it would give Chas the best chance of surviving that kind of encounter. An encounter with an officer of the law who Chas should look to for protection, not aggression based in racism. It’s a hard reality that shouldn’t have to be.

This issue of race is not particular to Florida, to Chuck, or to the African American community. The topic is one for discussion that must be embraced head-on because it is one of the largest issues—if not the single largest issue—affecting everything in this country, as it has for at least the last 150 years. Slavery, civil liberties, inequality, employment, education, crime, poverty, declining cities, health care, politics, you name it…race plays a factor in each.

Reading Chuck’s words, and reading all the accounts and fall-out news stories following the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman one month ago, I reflected how we are certainly not immune to the effect of race and discrimination here at home.

There have been numerous recent cases alleging racism at play, such as in New Canaan, where a town woman ; or in Darien, where statistics point to the probability that police than what is proportional to the town population; or deep-seated racial tensions in East Haven that hit national news with a ; or even overall in Connecticut, where it was recently found that Hispanics and African Americans if stopped by a police officer in the state.

Of course it’s almost impossible not to find the continued presence of race in situations like this all over as well—in Mississippi, three white men pleaded guilty last week to federal hate crimes in the 2011 beating death of an African-American man; in New York City, an unarmed Black teen was shot by a police officer in February. The list could go on. It seems no one is immune to the insidiousness of racial hate and difference.

The Trayvon Martin killing seems to have shined a searing light, though, on the issue of race. Was it his youth? Was it the idea that at first glance this seemed like unprovoked, vigilante justice permitted by ill-conceived laws? Is it that there has been no arrest made for such a horrific incident, even one full month after it occurred?

Of course when President Obama weighed in last week, it gave the story appropriate attention. As the country’s first black president, his remarks that a son of his would have looked like Trayvon put an important context to the shooting. A president remarking on an important social issue helped underscore the kind of role this issue continues to play in our society.

I’ve seen many a Facebook post in the last couple of days pointing out the tragic irony of how there has been no arrest in Trayvon’s shooting, and yet the anti-fur protester who flour-bombed Kim Kardashian was arrested immediately after attacking her. There’s been continued outcry in popular media and the sports world drawing more heat and attention on Trayvon’s case, with the Miami Heat athletes among others posing in hoodies to memorialize the Florida teen and keep the national conversation going.

And just this past Monday, a march was planned for Sanford, FL in protest that no arrest had yet been made. A similar anti-violence rally was planned for this week in Bridgeport.

I talked with Chuck about what we were witnessing and what reaction he’d gotten to his post. He reflected on what it’s been like for him growing up, feeling like he’s bridged many worlds—white, black, affluent, educated (both Ivy League and master’s level) and million-dollar business owner.  And yet the Trayvon shooting reinforced that with a hoodie on, there are people that would only ever see “a brother in a hoodie from the streets.”

To Chuck, the biggest tragedy would be if this crime was not prosecuted. Even if Zimmerman, as is being claimed, feels remorse, there has been a crime. “This is but a single incident in the black experience,” he told me. “The mainstream, the people within the bell curve have to always make the ethical choice. When they don’t—when you let him go with the gun that killed that little boy, then you are communicating to me, to my son, that we are not valued. People are supposed to make the right decision. But they are not.”

He hopes, as do I, that with the mounting, continued outrage and outspoken attention Trayvon’s case is receiving that something will happen—in the Sanford, FL case and nationally. After all, as a recent CNN poll found, three out of four people feel that Zimmerman should be arrested for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps there's hope yet.

Despite that glimmer of hope, he said he still needs to be realistic. “I need to get my son past age 20 or 25. As a black male, if you can survive between now and 25, you’re safe. After 25, he’ll be outside the danger zone.”

I can’t imagine life in the danger zone. But we as a people need to learn how, at the least, to imagine it, especially if it isn’t our everyday experience, so that we can correct, fight against and change the prejudice—so that the Trayvons and the Chases of the world will no longer have to walk in fear.

Franken Harpo March 28, 2012 at 05:20 PM
BTW, why do they keep showing pictures of Trayvon Martin when he was 13 years old? Let's have an honest presentation of the facts. The media has been quick to demonize George Zimmerman, but Trayvon Martin was no angelic boy walking. He is 17 years old, at 6' 3" he towers over George Zimmerman who is listed at 5' 8". The teenager was suspended from school three times this year. In October, he wrote obscene graffiti on a door at his high school. During a search of his backpack, campus security officers found 12 pieces of jewelry, a watch and a screwdriver that they thought could be used as a burglary tool, according to a school police report obtained by the Miami Herald. Martin had previously been suspended for excessive absences and tardiness and, at the time of his death, was serving a 10-day suspension after school officials found an empty plastic bag with marijuana traces in his backpack. http://entertainment.verizon.com/news/read.php?ps=1010&rip_id=%3CD9TPBK382%40news.ap.org%3E&news_id=19018030&src=most_popular_viewed&page=3
sebastian dangerfield March 29, 2012 at 04:56 AM
franken Arrested for graffiti. Whatever. If you want to take the media to task-then you also need to tell people zimmerman was arrested for assault of a police officer and domestic abuse. These things seem relevant to the case, while graffiti? Not so sure that needs to be known. I agree with the media maniplulation with respect to his young pictures. There is a design there. BUt, I also viewed the youtube video of zimmerman being led in handcuffs into the police station that night, and the broken nose and lacerations are not apparent. I also object to the term 'white hispanic' used by the media-- obviously intended to draw a white vs black contrast. It looks to me as though zimmerman is not a good guy-- that he should have been arrested....but the b.s. by spike lee, obama, jesse jackson and the media is also wrong and misplaced. Too many people trying to cash in on unfortunate event. Sharpton should stay out of it. The father of Trayvon seems capable of pursuing this.... sharpton is a self promoter as is jackson as is spike lee. They are using this to build on their own base.
Franken Harpo March 30, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Another 'Stand Your Ground' case in Florida http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE8piVt_mIw&feature=uploademail
OLDTIMER April 02, 2012 at 02:20 PM
As a former white law enforcement officer in this part of the country, I am horrified by this story. It is clear Zimmerman was not qualified to be a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain and equally not qualified to be walking around anywhere carrying a gun. It is also clear prejudice was a factor in his suspicions of Martin. Beyond that, the story, as reported, gets much too cloudy to make sense. Neighborhood watch programs, and the local 911 operator, both advise against confronting, or even following, suspicious persons, but, it seems Zimmerman did both. Martin was shot and killed and witnesses called 911. Local police responded and Zimmerman was handcuffed and taken into custody. Sometime soon after, a prosecutor told the police to unarrest him because a conviction would be "difficult to prove" in light of FL's stand your ground law. Weeks later, the story attracted national attention and that prosecutor and the local chief recused themselves rather than defend their actions. Others were assigned to review the investigation, or lack thereof, and new facts have been discovered that cast much doubt on Zimmerman's self defense story and reenforce the belief that racial attitudes played a major part in Zimmerman's behavior. A complete, impartial investigation will probably support the action of the original investigating officers who decided, early in their investigation a crime had been committed and Zimmerman should be arrested.
Andrew Ziemba April 11, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Lessons learned: 1) No American is free to defend themselves with a gun. All Americans must be helpless victims. Only criminals will be armed. 2) Obama and the DOJ are criminals who serve their special interest groups for political gain 3) The mainstream media has twisted this story, misrepresented, and downright lied on so many occasions. Do not trust the mainstream media. They exist only as a source of propaganda for the highest bidder. 4) The Black Panthers can do and say whatever they want and are not held accountable. It's OK to issue death threats and incite terrorist activity in the US but only if you are non white. 5) You are guilty until proven innocent 6) maybe most importantly... never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers 7) Why hasn't the MSM reported that Zimmerman is a self proclaimed life long Hispanic Democrat who is against racial injustice and who in 2010 led a fight for justice for a crime that white police officers committed against a black man? Oh right, because that goes against their race war agenda to energize Obama's supporters. What a sick world.


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