Unfortunately, the odds are Trayvon Martin’s tragic death will be just another wasted moment, not a spark that ignites a movement. When the spotlight of media coverage is gone and the strident outcry over his killing subsides, the Black community and its leadership will most likely revert to business as usual, i.e., silent acquiescence to a racist status quo that demeans their humanity.
The dire endemic consequences of such silence are aggravated by Blacks’ inability to transpose rage into sustained pressure on public institutions like law enforcement and education. So episodic outrage evaporates and racist practices continue, substantially unabated.
Historically, as now, examples of high-profile cases like Trayvon Martin’s abound at both the national-Emmett Till, Amadu Diallo, Jena Six , etc.-and local level.
In Los Angeles County, the list is long: Leonard Deadwyler, Eula Love, Margaret Mitchell, Rodney King and Devin Brown-all expect King, LAPD shootings. In Inglewood, during one 18-month period, Michael Byonne and three other unarmed Black men were killed by the police. Just last week, unarmed Kendrec McDade was killed by Pasadena Police, and two white men killed three Black men and wounded two others in Tulsa, Oklahoma, apparently in random shootings. Such killings occur every day in cities throughout America with the signature silence and absence of sustained follow-up by those communities most victimized.
There was a plethora of coverage by print, electronic and social media of Trayvon Martin’s killing with most stories decrying what appeared to be a senseless killing, even murder.
Julianne Malveaux ‘s column, “We Are All Trayvon Martin,” recalls the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma horrific assault on the entire business district called “Black Wall Street.” It began when a Black man happened to bump into a white woman elevator operator. Tulsa’s crazed white power structure threatened to lynch the Black man, who fled to the Black section of town. Blacks did rally to his defense. However, whites responded by rioting and subsequently, as Malveaux reports, “It is likely that bombs were dropped on the Black community by our own government.” Although a wealthy Black community was totally destroyed, Malveaux says newspapers documenting the attacks cannot be found.
Most print and electronic accounts called Trayvonne’s killing unjustified, but there were dissenters, some strong, others subtle like LA Times Black writer Sandy Banks’ column titled, “Anger over Teen’s Slaying Transcends the Issue of Race.” The sub-title proclaims, “The shooting…provokes rage that cuts across society, but the furor is not just about skin color, it’s about justice.”
Of course, it’s just about justice, but justice is not dispensed fairly or equitably and Banks and others suggestion that it transcends race is both misleading and inaccurate. Racial profiling by the police in any large U.S. city is the norm when it comes to Blacks, as is the highly criminal mis-education of Black children, who achieve at the lowest level in virtually every urban school district in the nation. Banks’ assertion about Trayvon’s killing, “this is not just about the color of skin but the color of authority,” mirrors conservatives’ tactic of downplaying the primacy of race.
Thomas Sowell is Black and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University. He is also a syndicated conservative columnist. Sowell says, “It is not often that I agree with Geraldo Rivera, but recently he said something very practical and potentially life-saving when he urged Black and Hispanic parents not to let their children go around wearing hoodies. (Why not “hoods,” which they are?)
Sowell recalls, in some detail, how, as a Harvard student, he successfully walked through a tough Irish neighborhood-students were warned to avoid that part of town. His solution: He never walked through that neighborhood dressed in the style of most Harvard students. “I walked through that Irish neighborhood dressed like a Black working man would be dressed and I never had the slightest trouble the whole three years I was at Harvard.” By golly, he made it.
I agree with Sowell that “race hustlers that hype paranoia and belligerence are doing no favor to minority youngster.” However, I also think most people would agree that Sowell was extremely lucky walking unscathed through that neighborhood since Blacks in Harvard-style dress or any other attire were then, and perhaps still are, regularly attacked there. His insinuation that not wearing a hood significantly alters racial profiling of Black youngsters is pure nonsense. Had he looked white, he would not have had to borrow a working Black man’s clothes to get through the Irish neighborhood, right?
The causal factors for racial profiling are as old as America itself and continue to define human relationships, status and opportunity, notwithstanding substantial economic gains of a relatively small group of Black individuals, groups and businesses.
However, Blacks themselves tend to perpetuate a status quo that, by any objective measure, is not in their best interest. Despite their storied resilience, clearly, Blacks’ propensity for allowing the boot to remain on their necks contributes to their continued subservient status.
There are no quick fixes or easy remedies to the underlying race-based factors that contributed to Trayvon Martin’s killing and the killing of countless other Black boys and men. Sustainable solutions require new public policies and practices as well as courageous Black leadership and informed, determined communities that hold leadership accountable.
In crafting solutions, we would do well to contemplate the disquieting but instructive prose of Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay: “If we must die, let it not be as hogs, haunted and penned in an inglorious spot…Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back.”
Larry Aubry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.