OCHIENG: The myth of a post-racial society

On February 26, high school junior Trayvon Martin stepped out of his father’s girlfriend’s home during the halftime break of a basketball game to grab some Skittles and iced tea at a nearby 7-11. As Martin walked down the street of the small, gated community, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man, deemed him suspicious, followed him in his car and shot him — in self-defense, or so he claimed. A series of 911 calls have helped us piece together the story and new pieces of information continue to emerge.

While he followed Martin, Zimmerman placed a call to 911, the audio and transcript of which are available online. In those calls, Zimmerman says Martin appeared to be “walking around and looking about” and that he “looks like he’s up to no good.” Despite the 911 dispatcher’s attempt to dissuade Zimmerman from following Martin, he persisted in following the 17-year-old in his car.

In the next few minutes, Martin was dead on the ground, Zimmerman had blood on his shirt and 911 calls from neighbors flooded in with shouting and shots in the background.

Zimmerman had a handgun; Martin had a bag of Skittles and some iced tea. Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds; Martin, 140 pounds.

Almost a month has passed and Zimmerman has not been arrested. He remains free due to a Florida statute which permits the use of deadly force in response to a “reasonable” perceived threat.

As Martin walked down the street, talking to his girlfriend on the phone and keeping to himself, how did he pose a threat to Zimmerman? Zimmerman actively pursued Martin, getting out of his car to confront him while in possession of a handgun, thus calling into question the classification of this case as one of self-defense.

In a society in which stereotypes of black men pervade the national consciousness and tell us that they are violent aggressors, thieves and criminals, should it come as any surprise that some people perceive the mere presence of a black man as a “reasonable threat?” By refusing to arrest or even question Zimmerman, the Sanford police department appears to have reached this conclusion. As the commentator Touré stated in his March 21 column on the website of TIME, “blackmaleness [in this country] is a potentially fatal condition.”

In his 911 call, George Zimmerman described Trayvon Martin as just another one of those “a–holes [who] always get away.” By referring to Trayvon as an “a–hole,” I can only presume that Zimmerman’s statement is based on a caricature of a delinquent black teenager. If Trayvon Martin had been white, I have no doubt that he would not have been stalked and killed in the first place.

By bringing issues of racial profiling to the forefront of national news coverage, this case illustrates that the United States is not the post-racial society that many hailed it to be after the 2008 election. Numerous commentators, journalists and civilians have been outspoken in their demands for justice and their criticisms of the Sanford police department and police departments across the nation for unfair treatment and sentencing of black people. Rallies around the country are currently being organized to protest laws, policies and people who perpetuate the prejudice and mistreatment of black people, particularly young black men.

In my efforts to stay informed about the case, I have come across numerous blog posts, newspaper articles and televised news pieces. The authors of these pieces have been members of minority communities and, for the most part, black. I find this deeply disturbing because injustice is not a fight that solely concerns blacks but a cause around which every American should rally.

The fury surrounding this case has only begun. Trayvon Martin, as an innocent, promising young boy, serves as a sort of martyr for the black community and for those who have been subject to the injustices of law enforcement. However, as we remember him, we must also take care to remember the thousands of other young black men who have been murdered without adequate investigation by the police or humiliated in public due to their race. Their stories may not fit as perfectly into the soundbite of “skittles vs. handgun,” but seeing these stories brought to light and ensuring that justice is served should be just as important.

Kiki OchiEng is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at akinyi.ochieng@yale.edu.

Comments

  • redman

    It’s interesting that you profile our whole society based on one incident as an argument against profiling.

    • missy

      This one incident represents the many that happen all the time but do not receive media attention. People are standing behind this case because they finally have a chance to be heard and bring this issue to light. This case is for the black men who have been treated similarly who didn’t fit Trayvon’s perfect little circumstances, for the men who may have had a criminal record, for the men that may not have been walking to their father’s home but rather to a party, for the men who who may have fought back and killed their aggressor and are now facing life terms. THeir stories are not told.
      It wasn’t until I came to Yale that I saw how many people actually believed that this was a post-racial society… at YALE!! This is not one incident. This is a million incidents, and it is meant to educate people like you about how VERY OFTEN this actually happens. Please remove yourself from your bubble.

      • yayasisterhood

        FYI, poor form to comment on your own column.

        • missy

          FYI, its not my column, but it is my duty to educate.

  • River_Tam

    oh, are we doing this?

    okay.

    George Zimmerman’s mom is Hispanic. He looks clearly Latino to me. His father confirms that he grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. He was not college educated (working through an associates degree since 2008). He is not a rich white guy.

    Did the police do their due diligence when they came to the scene and accepted Zimmerman’s account of being attacked from behind by Martin? Clearly not. They took his statement (combined with his injuries which he had sustained in what appears to be a scuffle of his own making) at face value. Did Zimmerman target Martin because of his race? It’s very possible.

    Is there a single shred of evidence that the police looked at George Zimmerman, a latino man, and said “oh, well we like latinos more than black guys, so we’ll let him off the hook?” More likely, they looked at an injured man who was part of the neighborhood watch and took him at his word.

    Is it wrong? Of course. The police screw up all the time. Is it racist? No.

    Oh, and if it turns out that Zimmerman shot Trayvon because he hates black people? The only difference from the norm is that it happened in a small town in Florida instead of in the LA metro area. Don’t go into the wrong areas if you’re Black, or a Latino guy might shoot you. And vice versa.

    People are stupid. People who see racism where there isn’t any are stupider. Racist people are the stupidest.

    • missy

      Being frank, No one looks at Zimmerman and assumes he is Hispanic. I certainly didn’t.
      Also, The police didn’t simply screw up. They purposely released him. Their only problem is that they’ve not been able to cover it up. ABC confirmed that a witness, a long-time female teacher, was corrected when she said she heard the boy’s screams. [link text][1]
      Trayvon was laying face down when he was found. The police department had to be sued in order to release the tapes of the 911 calls. If they had simply made a mistake by releasing him, they would have released the tapes as it had nothing to do with what happened when they arrived at the scene. In other cases, tapes are released within 24 hours.

      The whole ‘he’s not a rich white guy’ thing is stupid. When you think of a white man who pursues, confronts, & shoots a black man, the last thing you think is that he was rich and/or educated. Racial profiling isn’t limited rich people. It is almost less likely since the rich tend to be more educated. For someone to pick a physical altercation, that later turned fatal, is not an action that is associated with rich white men..(I’m thinking Hillbilly)

      He grew up in a Spanish speaking household.. And??? That doesn’t make him more Hispanic, or even appear more Hispanic. I grew up in a non-English speaking household as also. I am bilingual. But we don’t all have accents. You wouldn’t know my parents were not American unless I told you!

      Referring to the second to last paragraph…
      Whether this is norm or not, it’s wrong! Should we sweep it under the rug since racial profiling is norm in other places? Should we not harp on this event in order to, if anything, bring attention to the similar cases that occur daily? Perhaps those in the “LA Metro area”? This is not a Latino guy shooting a Black because he is in the wrong hood (even though despite what you see in movies, it’s not always the case that Blacks and Latinos senselessly kill each other because of race. In my community, a Latino walking around alone at night has the same chance of being approached as a Black). This was a gated community, a neither Hispanic nor Black community. This was a neighborhood watchman.

      This was a police department who saw an unarmed black boy laying down on his face dead, and a white man roughly twice his size with a gun. They heard the phone calls, they heard the witnesses. How can you possibly accept self-defense? The only threatening thing about him was his race. If a young skinny white teen was found dead with nothing but a can of iced tea and skittles, while a much larger White, Hispanic, or certainly Black man stood above him with a gun, No one would dare mention self-defense. ‘Though this incident probably would have never happened in the first place.

      [1]: http://abcnews.go.com/US/neighborhood-watch-shooting-trayvon-martin-probe-reveals-questionable/story?id=15907136

      • River_Tam

        > even though despite what you see in movies,

        In real life, you mean.

        > it’s not always the case that Blacks and Latinos senselessly kill each other because of race.

        Of course not. It’s way more complicated than just race.

        Also, Zimmerman looks Latino. His mom is Peruvian. Deal with it. If he’d been shot by a white police officer, y’all would have been that *he’d* been profiled.

        • missy

          MY statement was “Even though despite what you see in movies, t’s not always the case that Blacks and Latinos senselessly kill each other because of race” You just said that they senselessly kill each other in real life. Then you say the don’t senselessly kill each other.

          Anyhow, I agree that they don’t senselessly kill each other. That’s why I don’t understand why you wrote:

          **”Oh, and if it turns out that Zimmerman shot Trayvon because he hates black people? The only difference from the norm is that it happened in a small town in Florida instead of in the LA metro area. Don’t go into the wrong areas if you’re Black, or a Latino guy might shoot you. And vice versa.”**

          That has nothing to do with this case.
          You are also correct. If Zimmerman had been shot by a fully white man, BECAUSE OF HIS RACE, then we would call it profiling as well, because that’s what it is. It doesn’t matter what race the profiler is!

          • River_Tam

            They do senselessly kill each other in real life. It’s just not only about race – it’s about culture, turf-wars, local pride, gangster sh*t, and all other sorts of crap.

            There’s not much proof that Zimmerman shot Trayvon because of his race, and there’s certainly no proof that the police let Zimmerman go because of his (and Trayvon’s) race.

      • y_07

        While we’re discussing prejudice, why is it that the image of the racist “Hillbilly” is one of the last acceptable stereotypes in our society? And I don’t think it’s a valid stereotype, either. People perceived to be “hillbillies” do get quite a bit of crap from the police though (unlike rich white people — when was the last time you saw 2 Yale kids brawling at a party get arrested and convicted of assault?). I have no idea what happened and who’s guilty, and I don’t pretend to. But I do know the issue is a lot more complicated than a lot of people are making it out to be.

        • ldffly

          Thank you for this post. The hillbilly reference was ridiculous. The hillbilly is an easy target, just like white southern males are easy targets. Folks, you don’t always have to have an ‘other’ to make your argument.

  • lakia

    85* degrees in Orlando Feb. 26, 2012

    • Rek

      Actually, it was in the 50s and raining in Sanford. I don’t know where you’re from, but in Florida, 50s is cool or even cold, and people wear hoodies in the rain.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I don’t notice any WOMEN carrying guns and shooting people in gated communities.

    I didn’t notice any WOMEN throwing ropes around the necks of the 500 black males who were lynched in Mississippi before the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

    I didn’t notice any WOMEN on the Yale Police Department kicking a black male who was asleep on Yale steps near Hendrie Hall on the night of my graduation. Link http://yalegrad80.blogspot.com/

    Face it !

    It’s always MEN.

    PK

    • River_Tam
      • The Anti-Yale

        Just as Charles Manson is nuts, so too was Lizzie Borden.

    • River_Tam
      • The Anti-Yale

        “Women of the Klan differed from Klansmen primarily in their political agenda to incorporate racism, nationalism, traditional morality, and religious intolerance in everyday life through mostly non-violent tactics”

        Certifies my point.

        • River_Tam

          > Although they were not as violent as their male counterpart, the KKK, they did sometimes resort to violent tactics.

    • Goldie08

      “Greg Melany says he’s seeing more older women, from affluent suburbs, coming into his store for their first gun. “They feel that its their constitutional right, and they feel a little upset, like the country is slipping away”

      http://www.wickedlocal.com/somerset/mobiletopstories/x570348915/RICK-HOLMES-Surging-gun-sales-driven-by-paranoia-about-Barack-Obama?zc_p=0#axzz1pyVgRZXt

      March 2012

    • Goldie08

      I didnt notice any WOMEN firing on the protesting students at KENT STATE.

      And after all, what is a GUN? What is a RIFLE but a giant PHALLUS?

      From a Freudian perspective, shooting people is a rehearsal of the reproductive act : Attempting to accurately aim and insert a projectile into someone’s body.

      AG

      • The Anti-Yale

        Absolutely a phallic symbol.

        And every other weapon, from sword, to rifle, to cannon, to nuclear missile.

        The entire world of warfare is nothing less than penis insecurity.

        As for Kent State:

        The beautiful, 19-year-old coed, Allison Krause (who was 5″ 10″ tall, and therefore, the tallest female target in sight) has the temerity to aim an upraised middle finger at a 26-year-old Ohio National GuardsMAN .

        His penis was so threatened by that vulgar gesture that he decided to blow a few holes in her body and end her life, forever.

        Remind you of anything recently in Afghanistan at the hands of a MALE?

        Our society turns males into monsters.

        PK

        • lakia

          Seriously. Just a few years of therapy. Will make world of difference. Even if it just runs around your head as background noise.

      • ldffly

        I love it.

        • The Anti-Yale

  • lakia

    “In his 911 call, George Zimmerman described Trayvon Martin as just another one of those “a–holes [who] always get away.” By referring to Trayvon as an “a–hole,” I can only presume that Zimmerman’s statement is based on a caricature of a delinquent black teenager.”

    REALLY?

    It seems your presumption makes YOU the racist. I assumed Zimmerman meant the THIEVES who kept stealing from his gated community and still had not been caught. Why do YOU assume he meant black people? He never mentions the teen’s race until asked.

    • missy

      Why would Zimmerman assume Trayvon was one of the thieves who kept stealing from his gated community?
      A young boy who was riding his bike at the time of the incident told police that he saw both of them on the ground but separated. This was an incident that happened just before it was dark.
      What makes Trayvon appear to be a thieve? The fact that he was walking home slowly? The fact that he weighed 140 pounds? The fact that he was unarmed? Or the fact that he was black?

      • River_Tam

        The fact that Zimmerman seems like a paranoid nut:

        http://www.sanfordfl.gov/investigation/docs/911CallHistory.pdf

        • missy

          I agree that he does seem like a paranoid nut! Exactly why he should be prosecuted. However, Trayvon was not the only person outside that night. He was paranoid, saw a black man, and targeted.

          • River_Tam

            And all the times he called about garage doors being left open? Were the garages black?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Alison Krause lived in my dorm complex, Eastway. I would often see her and her boyfriend, Barry Levine at meals. They were the Romeo and Juliet of Eastway—-physically and emotionally inseparable. She bled to death in Barry’s arms, May 4, 1970.

    PK

  • The Anti-Yale

    **FLOWERS & BULLETS
    Dedicated to Allison Krause, killed at Kent State, May 4, 1970, who put a flower in a Ohio National Guardsman’s rifle, May 3, 1970 declaring, “Flowers are better than bullets.”)
    by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
    (translated by Anthony Kahn)**

    ______________________________

    Of course:
    Bullets don’t like people
    who love flowers,
    They’re jealous ladies, bullets,
    short on kindness.
    Allison Krause, nineteen years old,
    you’re dead
    for loving flowers.

    When, thin and open as the pulse
    of conscience,
    you put a flower in a rifle’s mouth
    and said,
    “Flowers are better than bullets,”
    that
    was pure hope speaking.

    Give no flowers to a state
    that outlaws truth;
    such states reciprocate
    with cynical, cruel gifts,
    and your gift, Allison Krause,
    was the bullet
    that blasted the flower.

    Let every apple orchard blossom black,
    black in mourning.
    Ah, how the lilac smells!
    You’re without feeling.
    Nothing, Nixon said it:
    “You’re a bum.”
    All the dead are bums.
    It’s not their crime.
    You lie in the grass,
    a melting candy in your mouth,
    done with dressing in new clothes,
    done with books.

    You used to be a student.
    You studied fine arts.
    But other arts exist,
    of blood and terror,
    and headsmen with a genuius for the axe.

    Who was Hitler?
    A cubist of gas chambers.
    In the name of all flowers
    I curse your works,
    you architect of lies,
    maestros of murder!
    Mothers of the world whisper
    “O God, God!”
    and seers are afraid
    to look ahead.
    Death dances rock-and-roll upon the bones
    of Vietnam, Cambodia -
    On what stage is it booked to dance tomorrow?

    Rise up, Tokyo girls,
    Roman boys,
    take up your flowers
    against the common foe.
    Blow the world’s dandelions up
    into a blizzard!
    Flowers, to war!
    Punish the punishers!
    Tulip after tulip,
    carnation after carnation
    rip out of your tidy beds in anger,
    choke every lying throat
    with earth and root!
    You, jasmine, clog
    the spinning blades of mine-layers.

    Boldy,
    block the cross-hair sights,
    drive your sting into the lenses,
    nettles!
    Rise up, lily of the Ganges,
    lotus of the Nile,
    stop the roaring props
    of planes pregnant
    with the death of chidren!
    Roses, don’t be proud
    to find yourselves sold
    at higher prices.
    Nice as it is to touch a tender cheek,
    thrust a sharper thorn a little deeper
    into the fuel tanks of bombers.

    Of course:
    Bullets are stronger than flowers.
    Flowers aren’t enough to overwhelm them.
    Stems are too fragile,
    petals are poor armor.
    But a Vietnam girl of Allison’s age,
    taking a gun in her hands
    is the armed flower
    of the people’s wrath!
    If even flowers rise,
    then we’ve had enough
    of playing games with history.

    (continued, next post)

  • The Anti-Yale

    FLOWERS AND BULLETS, (cont.)

    Young America,
    tie up the killer’s hands.
    Let there be an escalation of truth
    to overwhelm the escalating lie
    crushing people’s lives!
    Flowers, make war!
    Defend what’s beautiful!
    Drown the city streets and country roads
    like the flood of an army advancing
    and in the ranks of people and flowers
    arise, murdered Allison Krause,
    Immortal of the age,
    Thorn-Flower of protest!

    • The Anti-Yale

      I think that’s a smart way to deal with people whose opinions annoy you. Ignore them. (I’m not being sarcastic.)

      On the other hand, you missed a great poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Flowers and Bullets) in the process.

      Maybe a better strategy is to read first sentences and then dump the poster if the food tastes bad.

      PK

  • dhansen

    Didn’t read the comments. River_Tam likely said something inflammatory. RexMottram08 and theantiyale probably also said something inflammatory, and ignorant. The YDN comments section is not worth anyone’s time because attention-hungry trolls use it as a forum to feed their attention hunger. Don’t feed’em folks, especially not on a topic like this, which is actually important.

    • missy

      Absolutely! But after reading the title of the article, I just had to see the comments. It’s my weakness.

    • RexMottram08

      River_tam and I are not trolls. You just failed teh internets.

      Regarding Trayvon: It’s a horrible tragedy. My hometown has seen similar incidents from nutjob vigilantes. But it’s not racist and I still support no-retreat self defense laws.

    • River_Tam

      Your mind is so open.

  • The Anti-Yale