The headline in this column is not a mistake. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was guilty of being Black.
All of us know of jokes about being arrested for driving while being Black. It was no joke for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed for walking in the rain while Black, wearing a hoodie, looking “suspicious,” and walking close to the townhouses to protect himself against the elements in a neighborhood that feared young Black men due to recent burglaries by Black youth.
Two men: both young, both male, both wanting respect, but only one with a gun. And only one with all the privileges of being White in America, including getting a “pass” if White.
An episode of the TV show 30 Rock had the Tina Fey character protesting a mailroom clerk seeking advancement as he was not qualified for anything. But look, her boss said, “He’s male, he’s White, he’s got great hair. There is no limit for him.”
That “no limit” was not extended to Trayvon Martin. It was extended to George Zimmerman, a man whose father is a federal magistrate, his mother a clerk of the court in the adjoining county. It is no coincidence that they were the only two witnesses that neither the prosecution nor defense asked what jobs or professional credentials they held.
That’s White privilege. That’s having “a fair head start.” Trayvon Martin, guilty in the eyes of the White privileged who were uncomfortable with him, had done nothing illegal. But he was “legal while being young and Black.”
In the end, though dead, it was up to Trayvon Martin to defend himself, unheard of under Anglo Saxon law. White privilege, White anger and White denial came together to judge him guilty.
There are those in this country still angry at the late Johnny Cochran for getting a jury in 1995 to acquit O.J. Simpson. Some commentators, Black and White, suggested Zimmerman’s attorney Mark Omera was American’s new Johnny Cochran. Mark Omera is no Johnny Cochran. Mark Omera and Zimmerman’s other attorney, Don West, had White privilege on their side, the great “fair head start” privilege.
Black America needs to be concerned. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney, in 1859, ruled regarding Blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”
We thought, after the enactment in 1863 of the Emancipation Proclamation, that we would finally have access, opportunity, respect and protection of law. Instead, there were more tragedies in which Black Americans lost their lives, their freedoms, all the while being told to be patient, that our time would come.
Black America knows deep within her soul that we still await equal protection under the law, hence the headline in this column. Trayvon Martin was found guilty of being Black, young and offending White privilege.
The solution for the future is not more conversation but an education system that doesn’t push Blacks to drop out, and training and economic opportunities leading to employment in living-wage jobs that enable good rather than inferior housing.
The elephant in the room remains: racism. Its cousin: White privilege. George Zimmerman’s cleverness has served him well. All of his 49 calls to the police over the years in Neighborhood Watch were all about African Americans. But the judge denied mention of the elephant. When the prosecutor failed to challenge that ruling, I was overwhelmed with the sense that the fix was in.
The prosecution team came from Jacksonville, FL, Duval County, which has one of the most atrocious records of intentionally overcharging African Americans in criminal matters. No African Americans were seated as jurors. The State of Florida made a calculated decision to undermine their own “case in chief.” Once again, the tragedy that is so much a part of American justice was in play.
But let’s not forget the other elephant in the living room — us. Charles Evers, after taking over from his assassinated brother Medgar in 1963, said “We realized that all the hardship we had came from elected officials.”
In 1961, Martin Luther King said to a congregation, ”Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58 percent of its crimes? We’ve got to face that… We can’t keep on blaming the White man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
The concentration on Trayvon is taking our eye off the fact that many of our worst cities are run by Blacks who have become as corrupt as Whites. Until Black leaders put their eyes back on the prize, we’ll continue to be considered guilty while being Black.
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