Justice failed Trayvon Martin the night he was killed. We should be appalled and outraged, but perhaps not surprised, that it failed him again Saturday night, with a verdict setting his killer free.Those are the first two paragraphs of Black boys denied the right to be young, Robinson's column for tomorrow's Washington Post.
Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent. This is the conversation about race that we desperately need to have — but probably, as in the past, will try our best to avoid.
UPDATE - Robinson tweeted this last night, but there is a different column in today's paper. Go figure
There is simply so much in this column. I will not attempt to summarize it. It needs to be read.
If you will simply go read Robinson's column, I will be satisfied.
You need not read further here, nor do anything else.
Below the fold I will offer a few thoughts of my own, and then some more powerful words from Robinson.
I am a white, middle class, senior citizen.
I have spent much of the past two decades teaching in schools that were majority African-American. Occasionally my students have let me see their world through their eyes.
How when one 8th grader tried to tell a cop to stop harrassing and belittling his mother the cop slammed him against the wall and arrested him for interfering. Then put felony charges against him unless he would withdraw his complaint for police brutality, so the policeman - who by the way was black - did not get formally disciplined.
How students would go into certain stores and be followed by the management - it might be an Eddie Bauer store, it could well be a small convenience store run by East Asians. They would note they got followed, while their white classmates did not.
How if they were walking down the street some whites would cross to the other side of the street to get away from them.
Perhaps some of them heard Eric Holder speaking at the NAACP about how when he was in the Georgetown section of DC and was running because he was late for a movie he was pulled over and questioned by a DC policeman - at the time Holder was a Federal Prosecutor.
We have heard again about "the conversation" Black parents feel they must have with their children, conversations I as a white adolescent did not have to have. Hell, I knew that if a cop harassed me I would get his badge number and inform him that my mother was Assistant Attorney General of NY State.
Perhaps when I had long hair and a beard in the 60s, I might get eyed by some police, but around Greenwich Village there were too many of us for them to make it an issue.
It is the small indignities that add up.
It is the constantly having to be on one's guard lest one be treated with more than suspicion.
It is seeing the re-legitimizing of overt racism in American society, and not just from the Ann Coulters of the world.
Writing of the jurors in this case, Robinson says bluntly
The assumption underlying their ho-hum approach to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin — young, male, black — did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin — young, male, black — would not.But of course, "stand your ground" is intended to rationalize force out of "fear" - or in some cases mere hatred that one might describe as fear, but certainly not a rational fear of imminent harm.
On every measure that matters in the lives of younger black males, the weight of discipline (school suspensions and expulsions) and criminal justice falls disproportionally upon them for the same offenses as it does whites of the same age. Thus more are arrested for drugs even though we know drug use among white and black adolescents is roughly the same. Unfortunately, some whites will then use the statistics of arrests to push the racist claim that blacks are more prone to crime, like the mayor of New York justifying the absurd disproportion of stop and frisk incidents falling upon people of color, who therefore get arrested at an even higher rate, that rate being used to say "See, they ARE more prone to crime."
Or if you raise the issue of Zimmerman's violence will say "but what about Black on Black violence?" To which I will point out all the white on white crime they choose to ignore, including the financial devastation of people's lives by wealthy whites in the financial services industry. But somehow that doesn't seem to matter.
Most violence is done by people who know us. Thus most violence against blacks is by other blacks, particularly when we are increasingly resegregating much of our society. Most violence against whites is by other whites - husbands, parents, uncles, sometimes mothers and wives and aunts.
In his penultimate paragraph Robinson tells us how black males of any age
are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes.He bluntly calls the disproportionate nature of criminal punishment racism. He challenges us bluntly What would you call it?
And here is the scary thing. Can we really call it anything else?
And if we cannot, then ponder his final words, and the implications flowing from them:
Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance.