03/21/2012

Walking While Black is Still a Crime

Walking while black — merely being black — still seems to be a crime in this country.

That certainly seems to be the moral of the tragedy in Sanford, Fla. From the news reports we've seen, George Zimmerman appears to have concluded that young Trayvon Martin was "suspicious" based on nothing more than his race and the fact that Trayvon was walking in Zimmerman's neighborhood.

Sadly, such assumptions are made about black youth every day. And they play out in a million disastrous ways.

They play out in schools across the country, where black youth receive far more discipline referrals than their white counterparts for similar kinds of minor misbehavior. They're apparent in the statistics that show black youths are much more likely to be stopped by police and to be arrested than their white peers for similar offenses.

Black youth are seen as bad kids — "combatants," in the words of one police chief whose officers routinely mace school children as a means of discipline.

Just this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center continued its fight against such assumptions, testifying in Miami at a U.S. Department of Justice hearing on issues of violence against children.

Trayvon represents the hundreds of thousands of African-American men and boys in Florida who are viewed by our criminal and juvenile justice system as sub-human and disposable.

Sub-human. Disposable. Even in the larger world.

Trayvon was returning from buying candy and iced tea at a nearby convenience store, walking through a gated community in Sanford where his father was staying. He was presumed to be up to no good.

His assailant, George Zimmerman, has been presumed by local police to have acted in self-defense.

It's called a double standard.

And it's having a disastrous impact on the young people of color in our country.

In Trayvon's name, we must do better.

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