Last week the country rocked, in some small way, with the announcement of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida. Everyone knows the reported details, the volunteer guard (28 years old; mixed-race Hispanic) following and confronting the teenaged African American, Martin, in January, in a gated community where Martin was walking from a friend’s house. A fight ensued, a shooting followed, Martin was left dead. Zimmerman claimed legitimate self-defense; the jury acquitted.
Protests followed across the country. President Obama spoke to the nation, saying “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” and then talked for a bit about the existence of racism, still, in American society. “The African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” he explained, and went on to talk about why this situation looks different to Black Americans than it might to others. He even suggested some positive steps that his office will take to help improve racial relations.
I took the bus last Saturday from downtown Cincinnati, where I was visiting with a friend from out-of-town. We drove past the protest underway in front of our own federal courthouse, a peaceful gathering of about 200 picket-carrying concerned citizens. (There were about 100 of these nationally.) We stopped, at different times, to pick up two families with young children: one black, who likely were using the bus out of necessity; one white, who, like me, were likely riding the bus as a convenience, or as an intentional “green” thing to do.
As I saw the kids innocently interacting, I couldn’t help but imagine how different their futures would likely be. Probably poor versus middle class or better. Probably poor schools versus better schools. Probably less opportunity for economic advancement and security versus a given expectation there there will be plenty. I don’t know; maybe I had it wrong. But I’ll bet I was right.
All things being equal, the black community, generally, still struggles against harder odds than the white community. The Trayvon Martin case reminds us that we have a long way to go.
photo by John Feister