The national uproar over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager from Miami Gardens, by a neighborhood watch captain is being fueled by three fundamental concerns that have wide implications for the state of race relations in the United States of America.
One concern, which is the more obvious, is the startling failure of the criminal justice system to deal with this crime. At least for the first month, it has appeared that the victim was being subjected to scrutiny rather than the shooter. That, of course, is nothing new to African Americans, who are accustomed to the routinely racist application of law enforcement procedures but Trayvon’s killing has struck a nerve even in the wider society, hence the still growing demands for the wheels of justice to start turning.
It now appears that those creaky wheels are gradually being set in motion, with both the state of Florida and the federal government launching their own investigations into exactly what happened the rainy night of Feb. 26 when Mr. George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon in Sanford. It is not helping to advance the understanding of what occurred in this small Orlando suburb that police are releasing information only now, and only by leaking bits and pieces, into what may have happened, including the news that the lead investigator wanted Mr., Zimmerman charged with manslaughter but was overruled by the state attorney’s office.
The second concern is over the notorious “Stand Your Ground” law which Florida pioneered in 2005 and which more than 20 other states have replicated. The killing of Trayvon Martin is tragic proof that this law is merely a license to kill and must be repealed promptly.
The third concern has existed long before this tragedy unfolded and is likely to persist long after the cameras are shut off and the nation turns its attention elsewhere – unless something is done about it now. This is the concern that an ever-expanding number of black women – and men — have been expressing, more vocally in recent days: fear for their sons. The stories are multiplying of how mothers and fathers have to take additional care in how they rear and nurture their boys and the additional facet of socialization needed to try – yes, try – to prevent them from becoming statistics before they become men.
It breaks the heart to hear those stories that underline the reality of life in this country: that there are two Americas and, even with the election of a black president, too little has changed in terms of how our boys are regarded by white people. That, essentially, is why Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon. The rest is just chaff.
Nothing will change that reality except an honest examination of the institutional racism that has never stopped demonizing our people because of the color of our skin. It is time, finally, to break the remaining chains of black bondage in this land of the free.