Dr. King and the Trayvon Martin Case

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, as I listened to different people, primarily white, urge people to “trust” the justice system, and to “wait” for the justice system to work in the Trayvon Martin case, I found myself wanting to cover my ears from the din of useless noise.

Useless noise is exactly what it sounded like, this plea for African-Americans to wait for the justice system to work, because the system has so seldom worked on behalf of black, brown and poor people in this nation.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about “the law,” and how there are just and unjust laws. It seems that white clergy were urging Dr. King to obey the law and to “wait for the justice system to work.” Dr. King pushed back, saying that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” I thought of the “stand your ground” law that is apparently protecting accused shooter George Zimmerman from being arrested. Truly, that law is just on its face, but it seems like it was unjustly applied in this case.

Dr. King talks about what is “legal,” in his discussion of just and unjust laws. The white clergy were accusing Dr. King of breaking the law, and therefore doing something illegal. Again, Dr. King pushed back, writing, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in German was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid a Jew in Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. If, I thought, Trayvon was the aggressor in this case, according to Florida law, he would have been breaking the law, and would have put himself in the position of having to be fought off.

But it just doesn’t seem that that scenario is correct…and it seemed, as I listened to white people urge others to be calm and obey the law and let the justice system work, that they were more concerned with “law and order” than they were, or are, concerned with justice. Said Dr. King: “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,’ who paternally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to ‘wait until a more convenient season,” …is frustrating. He said people of good will who have such shallow understanding are more frustrating than people of ill will who have absolute, total misunderstanding.”

It is apparently very difficult for white Americans to understand the “souls” of black people in this nation, who have been so battered, and not bettered by, the justice system. There are reasons why the rage is so obvious about young Trayvon’s shooting and Zimmerman’s non-arrest. The reasons reach far back into our history; many of us have relatives who were abused by a justice system which never intended to exhibit justice toward them or their cases. And now, here in the 21st century, we find that really not all that much progress has been made.

Roland Martin, CNN commentator, said that if there are no protests, we cannot hope for justice. Had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of Trayvon’s parents, this case would have been swept under the rug with no mention; another young black male would simply have been buried…but Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, sounded the battle cry, blew the trumpet, if you will. Their refusal to let their son die in vain reminded me of how Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie, catapulted the national shame called lynching to international attention when she refused to let her son’s death be ignored.

Dr. King, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Oppressed  people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”  He acknowledged that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Dr. King’s words, written in the mid 1960s, are just as appropriate today. The demonstrations against what appears to be gross injustice in the Trayvon Martin case must continue …or else, there will be no justice.

A candid observation…

Trayvon Martin Case: Something is Very Wrong

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

I keep thinking that there is one point the Sanford, Florida police department apparently has not fully considered: that if George Zimmerman had not followed Trayvon Martin, and had not exited his vehicle to approach the young man, Trayvon would be alive today.

It still feels like Trayvon was standing his ground. He was being followed by, and then approached by someone he did not know, who had a gun. It is reasonable to believe that the young man, frightened, defended himself against what he thought was a sure and present danger.

How come that possibility has seemingly not been advanced by the police department? In all the press conferences I have seen, not once have I seen the police say that they are considering that possibility as well.

What we have, why this case has brought out so much rage, is another example of what appears to be the willingness on the part of law enforcement to  devalue the life of a young African-American– again. Florida and indeed many states have a long history of injustice when it has come to incidents involving whites and blacks, with white people being given the benefit of the doubt and being let free. Black people have historically been discarded, devalued, as it were, and there is a sense of rage based on a history of injustice.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of the book The Warmth of Other Suns, wrote an excellent piece for CNN yesterday, describing the historical wrongs done as concerns whites and blacks as concerns crime committed and justice served or not served. That injustice, or the fear of injustice, prompted many African-Americans to  leave the South, to migrate to the North and to the Midwest, in search of  jobs, surely, but also in search for a place where they might get more justice.

That has not necessarily been the case, and everyone who is an African-American knows it. The fact that George Zimmerman has not been arrested, and the apparent fact that the possibility that Trayvon Martin could very well have been standing his ground, promotes anger that comes from an historical reality. It is not at all surprising that details about Trayvon’s apparent multiple suspensions from school, and about how traces of marijuana were found in his book bag. There has to be a reason for what Zimmerman did and how he did it; how better to do that than to create an image of a troubled, violence-prone teen?

But in spite of whatever details about Trayvon are released, it still doesn’t assuage the anger of people who are wondering why – again – it feels like a white man will get away with killing an African-American. The details about Trayvon do not erase the apparent fact that the young man was apparently approached by Zimmerman, in spite of the fact that he had been told not to do that. The details do not justify Zimmerman getting out of his car and apparently approaching Trayvon.

Something is wrong here, and lots of people know it.

A candid observation…

Where are the GOP Candidates?

Did I miss it?

A true American tragedy has happened. A young, unarmed teen has been shot dead, and the shooter has not been arrested. The parents are anguished, the nation, black, white, and brown, is outraged, and I haven’t heard the GOP presidential candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, say a word about it.

There has not been a word from GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum about it.

Gingrich, while defending the “stand your ground” law that Florida follows, has said that the case is a tragedy and has said that a full investigation is warranted. He has even said that the “stand your ground” law “may not apply in this case.”

So, are we to assume that the other three candidates, Santorum, Romney and Paul, do not care about this case, about what appears to be a true American tragedy? Have they no room in their hearts to at least express concern and care for young Trayvon’s parents?

Santorum raised the biggest stink about contraception. He has been vocal about the “attack on religious freedom,” but is he really so out of touch as to not see the vestiges of  injustice in this case?  Mr. Romney has spent literally millions of dollars to attack his GOP opponents; is there not a thread of outrage in him that would encourage him to attack or at least address a justice system that has allowed a gross injustice to occur?

This type of injustice as concerns African-American men, is not new. It is part of America’s reality. Any president, or one who wants to be president, is surely aware of that…and ought to have the chutzpah to speak out against it. After all, if Romney or Santorum were to be elected, he would have to be president of all of the people, not just of their base.

Am I wrong?

Thank goodness for the groundswell of outrage all over the country.  From what has been presented to us, there are serious questions about what happened. What seems sure, though, is that Trayvon Martin should not be dead,and George Zimmerman ought to be answering for his behavior.

Thank goodness, too, that we are seeing the capacity of Santorum and Romney to be willing to be president of all of the people, and their capacity to take a stand on a difficult issue: racism and the justice system in America.

These two men are not presidential. The president of the United States has to be the president of all of us. He (or she) has to have the courage to stand up and against what appears to be wrong. At the least, he or she has to be able to relate to Americans who are hurting, like Trayvon’s parents.

President Obama, who has walked carefully over the minefield called race and racism in America, has spoken out, saying that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon,” but he said he wanted to respect the investigation of the case,  both national and local. That was the right thing to do, the right thing to say. That as presidential.

However,neither  Santorum, Romney nor Paul has shown compassion or backbone, not in this instance.

It’s a significant revelation. It is a telling revelation. It is a troubling revelation.

A candid observation …

No Justice, Not Yet

Authorities are saying that the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was self-defense.

But few people are buying that explanation. This unarmed, African-American youth was walking home to his father’s house in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, when he was shot by a neighborhood watch captain, a man by the name of George Zimmerman.

To many onlookers, this case looks like another sidestepping of justice for an African-American.

Zimmerman was said to be white, but reports today say that he is Hispanic. Regardless, the case has enraged the African-American community, because Zimmerman has yet to be arrested. Police in Sanford say there is no probable cause, and the 911 tapes, which might help Martin’s anguished parents hear for themselves what happened, have not been released.

Today, a televangelist, Rev. Jamal Bryant, a preacher from Baltimore, Maryland, declared that people are going to “shut Florida down until justice” is done.

And I would suspect that Bryant’s expressed rage is just the tip of the iceberg. Black leaders in Florida are vowing to bring at least 1000 people to a City Council meeting in Sanford at the end of the month unless charges are filed against Martin’s alleged attacker.

The history in this country when it comes to African-Americans has been paltry at best; there always seems to be a reason for some unprovoked violence on a young man, and far too often, law enforcement officers and others who have murdered African-Americans have gotten off scott free.

Young Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot; as previously mentioned, he was unarmed. He was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. But for some reason, he appeared to be “suspicious” to Zimmerman. The gated community has signs up that “suspicious” persons will be reported to the police. Zimmerman apparently called police, but also apparently approached Martin. What happened next is unclear. The 911 tapes have not been released. But the aftermath of whatever happened is that young Martin was dead, shot once in the chest, allegedly by Zimmerman.

I am not an attorney, but it seems that if this was a case of self-defense, Martin would have had to have approached Zimmerman in a threatening way. Reports say that Martin was about 100 pounds lighter than Zimmerman. He was not armed. And…he had no reason to approach Zimmerman.

It seems far more likely that Zimmerman approached Martin and said something to him. Whatever was said, and however it was said, might have provoked an argument between the two…but then, what?

What is so disturbing about this case is that it is NOT unusual. African-American youths can look “threatening” or “suspicious” just by wearing a hoodie, where a white kid wearing the same hoodie might be ignored. A black kid wearing a hoodie in a gated community should not have in and of itself, however, made him a suspicious person. Yet it did, and far too often, black kids get pestered and even harassed because of the way they look.

The case reminds me of Amadou Diallo. In 1999, this young man from Guinea, West Africa, was shot 41 times and killed by four white officers who thought he was armed when he reached into a pocket. It turns out he was not; he only had a wallet in his pocket. He had been stopped by police because he resembled some other person, African-American, who was a serial rapist.

There it is again: he “looked” suspicious.

In the eyes of we on the outside, it feels like injustice is happening yet again in a case involving a young African-American male. Rev. Bryant’s response, when he heard the police say that there was not “probable cause” to arrest Zimmerman, was “you’ve arrested a lot of black men without probable cause.”

So true.

So, now the family, already aching because this young man, their son, has been senselessly shot and killed, is aching even more because it feels like they will have to fight for justice. Zimmerman walks free because there is no “probable cause.”

It doesn’t feel right.

A candid observation.

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A Sister Warrior Passes On

Accession No.: 07_07_000093 Call Number: no. 3...
Image via Wikipedia

Patricia Stephens Due has died after battling cancer, but cancer wasn’t the first serious and difficult battle in which she had been involved.

Due was one of several students who attended Florida A&M University in 1960, who decided that they were sick and tired of cowering under Jim Crow.  A small group of 4 students, including Due, went to a Woolworth lunch counter and sat down.

That doesn’t seem like a big thing, except that in these United States, black people back then were not allowed to sit at lunch counters and get a meal or even a drink of water.  Inspired perhaps by events in and following World War II, where African American soldiers protested because they were required to fight for America but were denied basic human rights in America, or perhaps by the stirring of African American souls that were tired of being relegated to back doors, balconies and separate restrooms and swimming pools, the students in Florida and elsewhere said, “enough.”

They were not necessarily encouraged by their parents, or, as in the case of Due, by their universities. After being arrested for sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter, Due and her fellow students were arrested and spent 49 days in jail.  They were not supported or encouraged by Florida A&M; her university suspended her.

The lack of support did not dissuade Due and others in Florida and elsewhere. Due was so tenacious in her fight for civil rights for black people that the FBI built a file on her, some 400 pages long. She at one point was attacked by a tear gas bomb, an incident which left her sensitive to light for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she pressed on.

The story of Due, and others, black and white, is mind-boggling. So many of the basic civil rights that African-Americans have now is because of these people, like Due, like Irene Morgan and Ruby Bridges…who refused to back down or back out.  The story of the Freedom Riders, who rode on buses and willingly endured beatings, terrorism by the Klan, murders of some of their friends, fires deliberately set to the buses on which they rode …defies imagination.

Thinking of what these brave people did – so many of them students at the time, like Due was, makes me wonder if we really appreciate what they did. They were so brave.  Jim Crow laws were strong as was the hatred that surrounded them, but the courage of the participants in the Civil Rights demonstrations was stronger. They pressed on even when they could not get the federal government to listen to them or support them. Only when the news reports of how certain people in the United States were denied basic human rights began to hit the air waves in Europe did President Kennedy, for example, order federal troops to Alabama to protect Freedom Riders there. The treatment of African-Americans made America look bad in the eyes of the world.

Patricia Stephens Due was one of many sister-warriors who fought in that horrendous time of American history.  The women of the Civil Rights movement are often not mentioned, paled in comparison as the male leaders are lifted up, but it is clear that Due,one of the founding members of her local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, were no less important and no less powerful. They kept the vision of a better life for themselves and for their children, and for all children, ahead of themselves and above their egos. They just would not quit.

Patricia Stephens Due fought cancer for years and would not quit that fight, either; in fact, she fought for everything she wanted.  In 1965, she was allowed to re-enoll in Florida A&M University to complete her education and was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 2006. There was never a doubt in her mind that she would finish her education and get her degree, any more than it was a doubt that she was going to fight for basic civil rights. She spent her life fighting …and cancer was but one of the enemies on her battlefield

She never got off that battlefield, and we, the children of sister-warriors like Due, are the beneficiaries of their work.

It is humbling to read and study about the people who really walked on the water called Jim Crow and overt racial discrimination. It takes a lot of courage to do that, as well as conviction; Jim Crow was a Goliath back in Due’s day, supported by armies made up of the local, state and federal governments. The warriors were as “unarmed” to face that Goliath as was David in the Biblical account.

It seems today that the Goliath is not as blatant as it was in Due’s day;  the Goliath has not gone away, however. It presents itself in more socially acceptable ways, but is just as big and threatening as it was when Due sat down at a lunch counter in Florida. The thing is, many to most of us do not or will not see it, and so are probably much more threatened than we would be if we would recognize it.

Due, I know, always saw the Goliath, in spite of having to forever wear dark classes because of the tear gas bomb attack she endured in 1960.

The Goliath called racism is still here, sadly. Its light is subdued by clouds of deception which make way too many people think that the Goliath has gone away. Ironically, too many of us wear dark glasses because we do not want to see what is still with us.

A candid observation …