You know, the larger issue here is how we as a society perceive race, gender, age and class.
I think everyone here would agree that if I, as a middle aged white woman, wore a hoodie in the rain, and walked in a random sort of way through a middle class neighborhood, no one would assume that I was a potential burglar. And if, on that rainy night, a man followed me through that neighborhood, first in his car, and then on foot, and I subsequently lurched out and struck him, a struggle ensued, I banged his head on the sidewalk, and he then shot me to death, the police would view the situation differently. When the police arrived on the scene, they would probably not be as ready to accept the explanation that I was a potential burglar, or that I posed a threat to the community, or that I had provoked the attack, or that the man who shot me had acted in self defense. And a jury would view the situation differently.
Is there anyone who disagrees with the fact that this situation would be viewed differently?
When you swap out the race and gender and age, the scenario doesn’t make sense.
We as a society have agreed that it is ok to assume that young black men are criminals, and to treat them as such until they prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that they are not. Here in NYC, where young black men represent a significant percentage of the population, young men of color are disproportionately targeted for random and degrading police stop and search procedures. Taxis don’t stop for black men. It is almost a joke. And when black men and white men are convicted of identical crimes, the black man is statistically more likely to receive a harsher sentence. When young black men die violent deaths, we, as a society, assume that they are at least partially to blame.
Is this ok?
I’ve posted this video before, but I’m going to share it again. NYC City Council Member, Jumaane Williams, and Kristen Foy, aid to the NYC Public Advocate, were en route to a VIP luncheon associated with the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn. The street that they are on was blocked off, IN ORDER TO FACILITATE THE PASSAGE OF VIP’s to the event. Councilmember Williams, who is quite young to be an elected official, showed the police his credentials, and the police refused to look at them, insisting that he could not pass. The councilmember was on the phone with the NYC Police Commissioner at the time of his arrest. He was arrested for refusing to leave the street that was blocked off specifically to facilitate the passage of VIP’s like him to this event. His associate, Kristen Foy, is the man in the turquoise shirt, was also attending the event as a representative of the Public Advocate. In this footage, you see the police pushing him back, pushing him back. In this footage, he looks angry. Justifiably angry. The police are seen pushing him, and then ultimately tackling him, and knocking him face first into the ground, and then dragging him off in handcuffs.
Young black men are searched and tackled and handcuffed and shot every day. And mostly, we kind of assume that they are at least partially responsible for their plight.
Black men look suspicious. They look suspicious if they walk too quickly. They look suspicious if they walk too slowly. They look suspicious if they don’t make eye contact. They look confrontational if they look us directly in the eye. They look suspicious if they reach into their pockets. They look suspicious if they are in middle class neighborhoods. They look suspicious if they are standing on the corner of low income neighborhoods. They look suspicious if they are carrying a bag. They look suspicious if they are driving a nice car. They look suspicious if they cut through an alley. They look suspicious if they try to pass through a VIP area. Even if they have the credentials to be there. They look suspicious if they try to hail a cab. They look suspicious in elevators. They look suspicious in stores. And everyone knows they look suspicious on dark streets. They look suspicious in groups of other black men. And they look suspicious alone.
We all know that this is true. It is so deeply engrained in our psyches, that we don’t even really question it too much. And when a black kid is shot because he looked suspicious, well, this kid should have known that he looked suspicious. He should have been focusing on the fear of the man who was following him, rather than on his own fear of being followed by a stranger. He should have known that the guy following him was a good guy, who had justifiably mistaken him for a bad guy. He should have forgotten about the things he was probably taught by his parents and his teachers a decade earlier, when he was in first grade, about stranger danger.
My first grader learned about stranger danger in school. She thinks that there are bad guys who might try and “steal” her, and then come to our house and take Pinkie, her favorite stuffed animal. She sometimes cries about it at night. A decade from now, she will have different images in her mind of what a stranger might do to her. Rachel Jeantel testified that Trayvon had images in his mind of what this stranger might do to him.
You see, Trayvon’s problem is that he didn’t adequately embrace the fact that he just looked suspicious. He thought that the other guy looked suspicious. And that is a privilege that Trayvon just wasn’t entitled to.