I'm white. That fact has shaped my experience of life from day one. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood in the city and experienced the civil rights era as a child. I know what racism looks like and I've experienced it up close and personal... from my side of the equation. As I look at the USA today, I see that we have come a long way in regards to race, but anyone who thinks race is a non-issue is naive, blind, or just plan stupid.
Yesterday a verdict of not guilty was handed down in the George Zimmerman trial. I wasn't there to hear the testimony or arguments so I can't make a judgement as to whether or not that was a reasonable verdict. I can say that it was all about race. Had the races of the two parties been reversed and a black man had shot and killed an unarmed white teen walking home from the store, the arrest would have happened immediately and the trial would have been short and to the point with that black adult now in jail. Everything about that evening had to do with race. I would guess that Zimmerman may have been afraid, but was that fear reasonable? No. It was based on racial stereotypes and prejudices. Had the boy been white, Zimmerman would not have even noticed him. And I am positive that Trevon Martin was afraid. My black male friends have all told me that from the time they were little boys their parents ingrained in them that they could only walk in certain ways and act in certain ways when in public or they would be profiled and could end up being victims of violence, often times from the very police who were supposed to be protecting them. They were warned that at times, one could die for Walking Around Black or Driving While Black. Martin was walking home, being followed by someone in an SUV. He knew the possibilities.
There is no way that I could minimize the terrible thing that George Zimmerman has done and I cannot but hold him responsible for the events of that evening. He took the life of a young man with no reasonable justification. (That he went on Fox News and said that it was God's will that he be there only infuriates me more). Still, the situation is not so simple as one racist man acting out. The events of that night and the jury verdict are indicative of a sickness in our culture where black youth are devalued to the point that one can be killed with virtually no ramifications. We have a legal system that incarcerates young men of color at nearly 10 times the rate of white men. Through them in jail and take away any hope of a future. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. Every measure shows that African American men are more likely to experience injustice in the legal system. I believe that is simply an indicator of societal values.