You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
- Full transcript available via The White House
By Arturo R. García
It did not take long for business interests and other unsavory elements to pop up in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Beyond the professional ghouls, bloviators and racial profiling apologists to Zimmerman’s brother acting as a media surrogate to, perhaps even more disturbingly, one of the six jurors attempting to cash in on her brush with “fame.”
But thankfully, there are already people, online and off, in the streets marching and working from their homes, and even from behind bars, pushing back against this odious tide.
By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph. D.; originally published at Sociological Images
Today a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. It is widely argued that Florida’s stand your ground statute, which was considered by the defense, and which Zimmerman previously studied in a criminal litigation course, was at play. The statute allows people to use proportionate force in the face of an attack without first trying to retreat or escape. More than 20 other states have such laws.
At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.” In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such. This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.
But which homicides?
Ones similar to the one decided in favor of George Zimmerman today. A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved. The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.
Notice, however, that white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.
It’s simple: We are already biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim. Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. This increase even further the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.
From The New York Times:
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, igniting a national debate on racial profiling and civil rights, was found not guilty late Saturday night of second-degree murder. He was also acquitted of manslaughter, a lesser charge. Read more…
Race arose again, in topsy-turvy manner, when Rachel Jeantel, 19, a young black woman who was speaking to Mr. Martin on the phone shortly before he was shot, took the stand. Mr. Martin told her during that call, Ms. Jeantel said, that Mr. Zimmerman was following him; he called him a “creepy-ass cracker.” The defense team quickly jumped on the words, suggesting to the jury that Mr. Martin had profiled Mr. Zimmerman.
In the cocoon of the courthouse, even Mr. Martin’s bullet-scarred hooded sweatshirt, positioned for jurors in a clear plastic frame, appeared less a poignant symbol for the thousands who marched in his name than a lamentable but necessary piece of evidence.
Still, black pastors, sociologists and community leaders said in interviews that they feared that Mr. Martin’s death would be a story of justice denied, an all-too common insult that to them places Trayvon Martin’s name next to those of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and other black men who were abused, beaten or killed by police officers.
“Profiling, stereotyping, the disparity in treatment of African-Americans when it comes to criminal matters, how imbalanced it all is in the eyes of African-Americans,” said the Rev. Lowman Oliver, the pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford. “That’s why so many eyes are on this case. It’s nationwide and international.”
The makeup of the jury, six women, none black, is occasionally noted. Race also framed Ms. Jeantel’s turn on the witness stand, which drew heckling online from white and black observers who mocked her demeanor. In testimony over two days, Ms. Jeantel, a high school senior and Mr. Martin’s friend, was clearly uneasy in the spotlight, at times impatient and often hard to hear or understand.
“She was mammyfied,” said Ms. Wilder, the sociology professor, expressing disappointment over the reaction. “She has this riveting testimony, then she became, overnight, the teenage mammy: for not being smart and using these racial slurs and not being the best witness. A lot of people in the African-American community came out against her.”
– Zimmerman Case Has Race as Backdrop, but You Won’t Hear it in Court, by Lizette Alveraz via The New York Times, July 7, 2013
Rachel Jeantel is a teenager, a 19-year-old girl who told the world what she heard that fateful February night on the phone with her longtime friend Trayvon. From the news reports produced by the mainstream media, you got the impression that Jeantel was genuine and believable. Of course reporters from outlets like the New York Times, Miami Herald and the AP are not going to feel the need to describe Rachel’s attitude or overuse of black English vernacular, but they will feel compelled to describe the effectiveness of her testimony. And I saw them use words like “transfixed” to describe the all-female, nearly all-white jury’s reaction to what Jeantel was saying. Perhaps if the prosecutors had done too much coaching of their star witness, her genuineness would not have shone through.
I also saw incredibly mean things said about her looks on social media, even seeing her described as “Precious”—referring to the movie character brought to life by Gabby Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the troubled overweight teen. Disturbingly, this has become the go-to moniker for overweight, dark-skinned girls—aided by rapper Kanye West, who leveled that scarily ignorant line in his song “Mercy.”
“Plus my b*tch / make your b*tch look like Precious”
Jeantel had to live through a close friend being murdered, watching his killer walk free for far too long, then sitting in front of the world and recounting the painful night with an intimidating older white man directing questions at her while she’s clearly scared out of her mind.
Now, on top of all that, she has to endure some assholes critiquing her looks?
Really, people? Grow the hell up.
–Nick Chiles, “In Attacking Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel, Black Folks Are Taking It Too Far,” My Brown Baby 6/27/13
By Guest Contributor Deesha Philyaw; originally published at My Brown Baby
A friend recently sent me an MSNBC article about Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and the trial ofGeorge Zimmerman which began last week. As the co-founder of co-parenting101.org and the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce (both in collaboration with my ex-husband), I was particularly struck by a 2012 photo accompanying the article, a photo of Fulton and Martin holding hands as they listened to the charges being filed against Zimmerman. It occurred to me that this moving image stood in stark contrast to the image of co-parents that tends to dominate the cultural conversation about parents of children who live between two households: Combative, not conciliatory. Difficult, not cooperative…and certainly not comforting.
The larger culture generally expects co-parents to be disagreeable with each other. Fights over child support or one parent’s (usually the father’s) lack of parental participation are familiar reality TV show fodder. A few years ago, I cringed while watching a scene from Basketball Wives LA in which two divorced African-American co-parents screamed at each other in a therapy session, airing all of their dirty laundry… as their teenaged daughters, also in the session, looked on.
This expectation of conflict and animosity between co-parents is so great, that congenial co-parents are sometimes viewed with suspicion; surely one of them must still be carrying a torch for the other. I consider this kind of presumption to be a failure of imagination–and a failure to recognize that congeniality between exes can simply be a reflection of two people choosing to love their child more than they dislike or mistrust each other.
And it doesn’t–or shouldn’t–take a situation as tragic and extreme as what Trayvon’s parents are going through to bring co-parents to the point of civility. For some parents, it’s simply an outgrowth of the love they have for their children, and a desire to spare them exposure to on-going adult drama that pulls them in opposite directions. Some co-parents get along (even if it’s just going through the motions) in order to reassure their children that they still belong to a loving family–albeit across two separate households.
There’s much “what about the children” hand-wringing over single-mom headed households and low black marriage rates, owing in part to the politics of respectability, but also in part to concern over the poor socioeconomic outcomes that many children of single parents experience. However, as the child of a single mother, I know that these outcomes don’t have to be foregone conclusions. And as a co-parent, I know too that having both fit, willing, loving, and responsible parents play an active role in a child’s life can lead to positive outcomes, even if the parents are not married and living under the same roof.
As co-parents, we must do the hard work required to heal from our break-ups; to recognize that child support is neither a punishment nor an admission price to see a child; and to honor our child’s relationship with the other parent, however imperfect, as separate from the relationship we had with this person. Devoted parents will speak of being willing to die for our children, but are we willing to truly live for them? Even to the point of moving past personal hurts and disappointments, for their sake?
We don’t know what Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s co-parenting situation was like before Trayvon’s death. If it was a high-conflict situation, that surely doesn’t matter now. In a very public and united way, Fulton and Martin are grieving and seeking justice on behalf of their son, as co-parents, regardless of the circumstances that ended their marriage in 1999, and regardless of what has transpired between them since. And there’s a lesson for all co-parents in this. Whatever happened or happens between the adults, co-parented children deserve to have both their parents loving, protecting, championing, and guiding them. This is their right.
Despite the differences that led Trayvon Martin’s parents to divorce, there is much that they undoubtedly still share: love for the son they have lost, memories of him, grief and sadness that his young life was taken so violently, and a desire to see justice served. They have looked beyond themselves, traveling extensively here and abroad to reach out to the families of others’ whose lives were cut short by racial and gun violence. Looking beyond themselves and beyond their differences is what all co-parents are called to do in order to partner effectively in service to their children. Fulton and Martin are doing this under horrific circumstances that the vast majority of co-parents will never have to face. The nightmare they are living puts more typical co-parenting challenges into a humbling, sobering perspective.
We don’t have hold hands with our child’s other parent in order to create the respectful, mature parenting partnerships our children deserve. We just have to be willing and committed to keeping the focus on our children’s needs and well-being, not our adult gripes and regrets. It’s not easy; sometimes you have to be the bigger co-parent, sometimes you’re the only one willing to cooperate, and sometimes you have to fake it til you make it. But our kids are worth it.
Deesha Philyaw is the co-founder of co-parenting101.org and co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive In Two Households After Divorce, both in collaboration with her ex-husband. She is a Pittsburgh-based mom and stepmom to four daughters.