By RICHARD JAMES
As many of you know, I comment on things that are black. But I don't want to be pigeonholed as a racist or just a "black writer". However, I felt compelled to write about the unfolding Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case. Here it is:
The Trayvon Martin case has a lot of baggage. It is loaded with centuries of government sanctioned violence against African-Americans. But putting that aside for a moment, let's consider the indisputable, undeniable, irrefutable facts in the case. First the most obvious, Trayvon Martin a 17-year old African-American male is dead. The shooter, George Zimmerman a 28-year old married "white" man of Hispanic heritage was on duty as a neighborhood watch person on February 26, 2012. He has not been arrested or charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Those are the facts. They are beyond question. It's the other stuff that is questionable. As far as we know, there are no eyewitnesses to the incident. To date, the public is reacting to the published 911 tapes, a statement from Trayvon's female friend, the calls of justice from the family and a statement from Zimmerman's attorney. Based on the news reports so far, the public is outraged at the perceived injustice in Sanford, Florida.
In politics, nothing is sacred and everything is far game, especially in a politically polarized America. The Zimmerman-Martin case has become fodder for cable TV shows to boost their sagging ratings, for civic leaders and politicians to raise their national profiles, for hustlers of every stripe to make money from the tragedy. I can guarantee you, there's someone selling Trayvon T-shirts in Sanford right now.
But the case has larger implications for the country. It has forced us to look deep into the American psyche and ask some very uncomfortable questions about race relations. For the first time in a long time, we as a nation, are examining our painful history as it relates to the country's treatment of its non-white citizens.
It appears that the Sanford police were willing to take Zimmerman's word that the killing of Martin was a "righteous shoot". That is incredible. But there it is nevertheless.
I am going to play devil's advocate here and defend Mr. Zimmerman. Here's a guy that is defending his community from burglaries and robberies. He is an upstanding citizen. He is willing patrol the neighborhood while others watch TV. He is helping the police do their job. He is deterring crime. And I am sure the cops appreciate what Mr. Zimmerman did. Mr. Zimmerman has probably established a working relationship with the Sanford police department. He and some of the officers might be friends or at least acquaintances.
Furthermore, he was within the boundaries of Florida law. Although it was against Neighborhood Watch guidelines to carry a firearm while on duty, Mr. Zimmerman was legally authorized to carry a concealed weapon.
And what about Trayvon Martin? Was he as clean-cut as the press says he was? Surely, he could have been acting suspiciously that fateful night. He was a child and sometimes children do stupid things. Perhaps it's Trayvon's fault that he is dead. Mr. Zimmerman is the victim. Don't you see that?
Many years ago, my teenaged brother-in-law and I walked into the neighborhood delicatessen to get a weekend dinner of yummy hoagies, chips and soda. As we walked into the store, the counter clerk eyed us suspiciously. My brother-in-law, a tall dark-skinned black man with an athletic build, peeped the situation. He started acting strangely. He was acting as if he was a shoplifter. He was playing to the store clerk's fears. It was an act of defiance for the 17-year old.
We got our food and left the store without incident. But when we returned home, I "read him the riot act". My wife, his sister, was in the house as I talked to him in the car. I wanted a man-to-man talk. No women allowed. I said, "Carl, from this point on, I am going to consider you to be a man. In my mind, you will have all rights and privileges of a man. I will treat you as an equal. You are not a child any longer. You are a man and you should conduct yourself as such. Welcome to manhood!" I shook his hand.
He didn't know what to say. But his grinning face soon turned to a frown when I continued, "Now that you are a man. I am going to talk to you as a man... If you ever pull another stupid stunt like you did in the store, I am going to knock your block off. I am going to take your friggin' head off your shoulders! We are going to fight! Do you understand me? I intend to kick your ass!" My tone was intentionally menacing.
He started to apologize. I wasn't having it. I said, "You embarrassed me, your sister, your family and, most importantly, yourself. Don't lower yourself and submit to someone else's opinion of you. I want you to walk tall at all times. Don't be complicit in how white people see you. Don't give them the ammunition to shoot you with!"
That night was Carl's rite of passage. Only men can bestow it upon the next generation. It is an ancient ritual. That night he became a man.
It is sad to say it, but too many of our young boys don't know how to become men. African-American boys are particularly vulnerable. Don't get me wrong, I am not questioning Trayvon's father's parenting skills. I can't speak about their father-son relationship. I don't know.
I am saying that older men need to school the young brothers of what's going down. They should pull their coattails and give them the 911, the lowdown, the facts of life. As one single mother told me many years ago regarding police violence against black males, "I tell my sons every time they walk out the door, don't be acting stupid out there!"
This is how it is in the African-American community. We know, almost instinctively, that black lives are worth considerably less than white lives. We know that white perpetrators will get off with a light sentence, if convicted, when the victim is black. What galls the black community in the Trayvon Martin case, is that the appearance of justice has been discarded. Why arrest when the justice system is only going to let him go anyway?
In a few weeks this will all die down. The "We are Trayvon Martin" movement will dissipate. Another horrific news story will supplant and push it off the headlines.
Life will go on and Trayvon Martin's name will join the ranks of hundreds of other black men that have fallen unjustly. That's just the way it is. Tell your children to be careful out there. The world is a crazy place.
James is a the publisher of the African-American Perspective online newsletter."