Thursday, March 22, 2012
CAIR-MI Executive Director
Zimmerman, who has a track record of calling the police regarding “suspicious” (meaning Black) males traveling through his neighborhood, pursued Martin for looking “suspicious” (Black wearing a hoodie) and shot him due to him carrying the very dangerous weapon of Skittles. Ironically, Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest and committing battery against a law enforcement officer. Now, he has taken on the role of playing a keystone cop in following and questioning “suspicious” looking people.
To be frank, I was appalled when I heard about this murder, but I was not shocked at all. As a Black male, who was raised in the South, my parents and grandparents warned me, as so many Black boys continued to be warned, that when traveling in certain areas on foot or driving through certain areas, to be extra cautious. “Don’t walk with your hands in your coat pockets… Don’t be too loud… Don’t argue with White men that provoke confrontation… Don’t look at officers in their eyes too long… Don’t make sudden moves when pulled over by police and keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times…” There is a long history in America of fatal shootings of Black males based upon racial animus.
At the heart of the discussion regarding the shooting of Martin is the question of how can we curtail the tendency of many to demonize or other-ize people due to bigotry, or as a mechanism, driven by insecurities, of uplifting one’s self over others. Black men have been subjected to such demonization since the days of slavery with overseers, then from officers and “concerned citizens” like the White Citizens Council in post-Reconstruction America. Now, there are armed militias in the southern border states, who do the same with Latinos under the guise that they are watching for criminals crossing the border, as if the majority of Latinos in those states aren’t documented and don’t abide by the law when in fact this is not the case.
Zimmerman saying that Martin looked “suspicious,” which prompted him to start a confrontation, had me thinking about how young, brown Muslim males are currently seen by many in America as suspicious, just like young Black males, be they Christian or Muslim. Would Zimmerman have acted the same way if he saw a young Arab-American honor roll student named Ahmad Ali walking down the street wearing a white robe, or if he saw a South Asian class president named Muhammad Hussein walking down the street wearing jeans and a hoodie? I can’t say for certain that the outcome would have been the same, but the mentality of people like Zimmerman would prompt the same suspicion.
I hope that through Martin’s tragic death, we can have more conversations about getting to know each other, and decrease the tendency of other-izing each other as Americans. The stakes are too high if we do not. Just ask Trayvon Martin’s parents.