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Letter to the Editor: ‘Burden of being a black male means carrying suspicions of others’

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The untimely and unjustified death of Trayvon Martin has galvanized the attention of millions of Americans. I think that the death of Trayvon touches millions for many reasons. First, this tragedy highlights what so many already suspect, and that is the lives of black people, especially black males, are worth less than other lives. Second, the police work in regards to black males and their killings is spotty and incompetent. Third, the laws are once again protecting criminals from justice. Fourth, in a more diverse and integrated society, more white people have children that attend school with black friends, have mixed children, or simply more people have relationships with people outside of their race. Fifth, the details and actions of the police in Trayvon’s murder are so alarming that people are angry, but also people, especially black people, are in a state of anguish asking how this could happen in 2012.

Reasonable people know racism has not died and gone away, even with the fact that a black male is the leader of the free world. No one thought that these racist incidents could not happen again but, in 2012, I am sure we thought the death of a young man would not be swept under the rug like a nuisance.  A reasonable person also realizes that if Trayvon Martin would have been white and his shooter, black, someone would have been arrested and possibly still in jail. Furthermore, what is alarming is that Sanford, Fla., the place of this tragedy, has had a history of murders of black men going unnoticed. Just a few years ago two white men beat a homeless black man to death. In this situation, Trayvon’s body was put in the morgue for 3 days and no one told his parents, Zimmerman was never taken in for questioning and his clothes never taken for ballistics testing.

In my view, the problem here is not the law; it’s how it is applied. The “stand your ground” law derived from the laws across this nation, that say if someone comes into your home you can use deadly force to protect you and your family. This law is the same principle just outside of your home. I have no qualms with that. What I do see as a problem is a grown man with racial hatred in his heart following a young black boy with a hoodie on and Skittles and iced tea in his hands, claiming self defense when he (George Zimmerman) eventually shot and extinguished the life of a 17-year-old 100 pounds smaller than he. That is not self defense and Zimmerman did not stand his ground if he pursued this young man. Even if Trayvon uttered harsh words at Zimmerman or threw Skittles at him for following him menacingly or, let’s say he did attack a man 100 pounds larger than him, did that demonstrate enough of a threat to justify a bullet that would end his life? Hell no!

As a black male, I was told early on by my parents not to wear clothes that would make me look suspicious. Do not sag, do not run in public. If pulled over by the police, keep both hands on the steering wheel and do not become agitated, even if the officer is rude. Never leave the house without your ID. If you are going to wear a hoodie, do not wear the hood up in public. Simply put, the burden of being a black male means carrying the suspicions of others.

I went out to the movies last weekend, walked to my closet to put on my Jordan hoodie, then thought about Trayvon Martin and decided to just wear a light jacket. That is a damn shame.



- Divine Shelton is a graduate student in the School of Education and Public Services

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