Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Conversation About Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin. All of the chattering classes in America are constantly imploring us to have a "conversation about race".  What they really want is not a conversation, but rather a lecture. Any such conversation that doesn't result in a resounding guilty verdict of white America isn't what the chattering classes have in mind. Be that as it may, I do believe that the murder of this young man is as good a time as any to discuss race in America, and I will do so honestly. Most of you who read this blog know me so you can judge my views accordingly, measuring them against the full story of my life and work.

The facts of this story, as I know them raise only one serious question, why hasn't the shooter, Mr. George Zimmerman been taken into custody? A 17 year old, unarmed kid has been murdered by a 28 year old man, vaguely identified as a member of some neighborhood watch group, who had nothing better to do than roam around with a gun looking for trouble. Mr. Zimmerman's attorney is claiming self-defense, and since nobody knows precisely what happened in the 60 seconds prior to the shooting, perhaps it was. But, that's something for a jury to decide after a complete examination of the facts in a court of law. Since when does a police officer let a man walk free who just killed someone with a firearm on the shooters explanation that it was self-defense? I simply cannot imagine a similar outcome if the shooter was black and the dead teenager was white. And this contradiction is at the root of the anger felt among black Americans. For the first time in my lifetime I actually find myself agreeing with words flowing out of the mouth of Al Sharton. The fact that Zimmerman wasn't arrested on the spot is damning evidence of a cynical double standard that exists in our justice system. Black friends often tell me of the fear of being stopped by the police for the crime of "driving while black". I listen to them and a part of my heart breaks.

But this is where it gets tough. Crime statistics are stubborn things. The percentage of violent crimes committed by blacks is staggering. A study conducted and published in 1993(highlights of twenty years of surveying crime victims) stated that of the 1.3 million inter-racial violent crimes committed that year,75% involved white victims.  Why is it that nobody in their right mind would dare be caught walking around in any predominately black neighborhood in America after dark? If I am walking with my wife, from a restaurant to my car downtown after dark and I see a group of three black teenagers in baggy pants, hoodies, smoking cigarettes on the corner, is it racist of me to be scared? If I cross the street to avoid having to go near them, am I guilty of a hate crime? Actually, in my mind, if I saw three white teenagers similarly dressed on that same corner I would experience the same fear, however if the instinct for self-preservation means anything at all, it means that my fear isn't racist, but rational.

When I read the story of Trayvon Martin, I feel nothing but shame that the local police valued his life so little that they would let his killer go. But I also feel great confusion at how this particular case has been magnified beyond recognition, while everyday, black on black crime claims victim after victim and we hear not a word from Al Sharton, Jesse Jackson or any of the other racial saboteurs. Why is it that the black community glorifies the violent thug culture of Hip-Hop when the vast majority of victims of that pathology are black? Instead, in too many black neighborhoods and schools if a kid decides that he wants to rise above his circumstances by applying himself in school, he is derided as an Uncle Tom sell-out? Really? When is the black community, the majority of whom are hard working, law-abiding citizens going to reject the terrorists in their own ranks who are destroying the black family? Perhaps the local police in Sanford value Trayvon no less than his own community values the other Trayvons in their midst.

Do I believe that blacks get a fair shake in the legal system in this country? Absolutely not. Our criminal justice system too often favors the connected and wealthy at the expense of those who are neither. Do I believe that racism still exists in this country? Of course I do. The great sin of slavery and oppression in our nations legacy is not something easily overcome. But do I believe that the systematic destruction of many black communities can all be laid at the feet of white racism? Certainly not. At some point black Americans will need to exorcise their own demons, and take responsibility for years and years of self-inflicted wounds.

If I were King for a day, Mr. Zimmerman would be in police custody charged with first degree murder. He would be bound over for a jury trial and given the opportunity to prove his innocence. Further, every police officer involved in the decision to let him go free after shooting a 17 year old boy in cold blood would not only be fired immediately but persecuted to the full extent of the law. But even if I were King, nothing I could say or do would be enough for the parents of that young man. Today, that is where my heart is, praying for comfort in this the hour of every parents' worst nightmare.