Devastated. But Not Surprised.

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Like that family member who has let you down, time and time again. Devastated. Betrayed. Angry. But not surprised.

“I am not angry, but my mommy heart is broken…”

” I’m not surprised, but Soooo disappointed!!!!”

   “I expected a not guilty verdict.  Since when has American justice placed any value on black lives?  I pray daily for my son that his name is not added to the ever-growing list of black Americans deemed unworthy of justice and dignity both in life and death… ‪#‎RememberEmmettTill‬ ‪#‎RememberNewOrleans‬ ‪#‎RememberRodneyKing‬ ‪#‎RememberWatts1965‬  ‪#‎RememberRonSettles‬ ‪#‎RememberRosewood‬ ‪#‎RememberTedLandsmark‬ ‪#‎RememberFrankWills‬ ‪#‎RememberTreyvonMartin
   These are just some of the posts that that came through my facebook feed in the early moments following the verdict Saturday night.
   But some argued those feelings of anger and despair weren’t justified. That political correctness and radical activists made this case about race, when it wasn’t really a case about race. It reminds me of that scene in “You’ve Got Mail” when Tom Hanks says putting Meg Ryan out of business “wasn’t personal,” and she responds, ” What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people.” This case was about race. It was about race from the beginning. As a matter of fact, it was about race before the beginning.
   We in this country have a bias against black men. Particularly young black men. They are thugs until proven otherwise. “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” “Ok, and this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?” “He looks black.”
   Racial profiling is real. It happens every day. What was it about this 17 year old kid with skittles and an iced tea that made him look suspicious? That question cannot be answered without bringing race into it. Race came into this case because of the mindset that a black teenager walking through an upscale neighborhood must be up to no good. I wonder if there was anything Trayvon could have done differently to NOT arouse Zimmerman’s suspicion. I cannot think of any.
   Someone tweeted earlier, “How cool would it be to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night?” But that isn’t the world we live in. Does that make George Zimmerman any more racist than the rest of us? Not necessarily. George Zimmerman had black friends. He worked at a community center with minority kids. And if you asked him before this incident whether he would consider himself a racist, I’m sure he would vehemently deny it. As many of us would. But the ugly truth is we don’t even know how deeply embedded our biases lie.
   “What would you do?” did a segment about racial profiling by the general public.
That young black man was instantly surrounded by concerned citizens who immediately suspected he was up to no good. The white guy was mildly questioned but no one really confronted him, and the hot chick actually had men offering to help her steal the bike. This is the world we live in, and if you don’t believe it, you’re lying to yourself.
   I have no intention of trying to prove or disprove the merits of this case (or lack thereof.) I believe the jury did their job under the law as they understand it, according to the way the prosecution presented their case. I believe the system was in George Zimmerman’s favor. I believe the prosecution was either incompetent or made deliberate choices in both the charges and their handling of the case so as to achieve this outcome.
   What I do hope to do is provoke some thought amongst my white friends as to why the black community DOES view this as a case about race. And why there is not surprise amidst their grief.
   Fact: While people of color make up about 30% of the population in the US, they account for 60% of those imprisoned. 1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. 1 in 3. Let’s just stop and let that sink in for a moment.
   Why might that be? Well, if we believe in the fairness of our judicial system, that is an indictment of a whole race of people.  To say the system is good and just means the people must be bad, right? Black men are just thugs. Criminals. Up to no good.
   In our rabid defense of our legal system, it might behoove us to consider a few things.
   “Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Dept. of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately 3 times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost FOUR TIMES as likely to experience use of force during their encounters with police.” *
   Those stats don’t even include the fact that just driving while being black, you are more likely to be stopped by police. I have heard it all from “Your music was too loud” to “Your windows were too dark.” They question. “Why are you here? What are you doing? Who are you visiting?” And then they search. It’s happened to my friends. It happened to my college boyfriend in my own home town.
   Fact: Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70% of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. African Americans make up 2/5 of the kids in juvenile detention. According to the Sentencing Project ( http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/index.cfm) even though black juvenile youth make up 16% of the total youth population, 37% of their cases are moved to adult criminal court and 58% of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
   I just had to catch my breath for a moment as I absorbed those numbers and the far-reaching effects of sending so many underage kids to adult prisons.
   I recently watched a stunning documentary called “Gideon’s Army” on HBO about public defenders in their crusade for indigent defense. ( http://gideonsarmythefilm.com/ ) I believe that poverty is a strong contributing factor to both crime and the failings of our legal system. And I believe that juvenile problems amongst minority populations are often in the schools with the least amount of resources and communities where most families are barely making it. I won’t simplify these stats and claim that race is the only factor. But it cannot be separated from them either. It’s all intertwined.
   And it gets worse.
   Fact: In the federal system, black defendants  receive sentences 10% longer than whites convicted of the EXACT SAME CRIMES, and are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than their white counterparts. How do you explain that, proponents of out “fair and just” legal system?
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   Yesterday Zoe had a 3 hour gap between games at her soccer tournament, so we headed to the street fair happening nearby. At one point, Zoe and Parker decided to escape the heat and plop themselves down under the shade of one of the booths to cool off. This particular booth was sponsored by the Kent Black Action Commission. ( http://www.kentblackactioncommission.com/ )
The gracious woman manning the booth offered them candy and told them they were welcome to take advantage of the shade.
   As I stood there feeling awkward and looking over her pamphlets, we began to talk about her organization , along with the Statewide Poverty Action Network.  (http://povertyaction.org/) She had voter registration forms, as well as information about the Voting Rights Restoration Act.
   Oh, you don’t KNOW what the Voting Rights Restoration Act is? There’s a very good reason for that. When it was passed, one of the stipulations was that there were zero dollars allotted  for advertisement. If people don’t understand or know their civil rights, they are less likely to exercise them. The cynic in me thinks that may exactly be the point.
   In this case, the Voting Rights Restoration Act was a 2009 law that the Statewide Poverty Action Network was instrumental in passing that reinstates voting rights to Washington State residents who were convicted in the state and have completed parole and probation.
   Not a fan of convicted felons regaining the right to vote? I used to feel the same way, back when the naïve me believed that all people could get a fair trial. I never once had a problem with the idea of convicted criminals losing their right to vote.
   Until last summer. I call it my “Summer of discovery,” when I read two books that turned my world view upside down.
The first was “Some of My Best Friends Are Black.”
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Do you have any idea how many times I had to explain what I was reading because of the title of this book? I cringed every time I said it out loud. But the book changed my life. I suddenly saw history in a way I had never seen it before. And I became aware that my idea of how we got here was very misguided.
The next book I read was even more intense. It’s called “Worse Than Slavery.”
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   Up until reading this book, my linear brain had viewed things this way:
We had slavery. Slavery was bad. Good white people in the North decided to stop the bad people in the South from having slaves, so we had the Civil War. We (good white people) won! The slaves were free! Lincoln is awesome!  Oh wait… (cue the duh duh duh dramatic music when things take a turn for the worse.) The South still hates black people. Martin Luther King jr marched and inspired people with his dream. Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat and move to the back of the bus. Someone offered to buy the world a Coke and we all lived happily ever after like that song I learned in Sunday School, “Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in His sight.” ( I am sure the person who wrote that song didn’t understand how offensive the terms “red” and “yellow” are. I’m sure they had the best of intentions.) The End.
   And so going forward, any black person born in the greatest nation in the world, America, had the same opportunities as anyone else, and they could either succeed or squander them. Anything is possible! We are awesome! And free!
   And if you fail, it’s because you chose it. We value personal responsibility. Overcoming obstacles. But as my friend said to me today, “All obstacles are NOT created equal.”
   The legacy of the greatest humanitarian crime in the history of the world should not be taken lightly. Approximately 4 million Africans died during the Middle Passage alone. 300 years of slavery. 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Mankind’s apology was the reestablishment of the State of Israel. But what of the freed slaves and their descendants?
   During slavery, the black family was broken. If you haven’t read the Willie Lynch Letter, please take a moment to do so. It is enlightening about the long term effects on the slaves and their children and their children’s children; About pitting them against each other, breaking parental and spousal bonds, inhibiting learning and self-sufficiency.
It is hard to argue the visible, tangible results that these tactics have had on the African American community.
   Slaves were set free, but soon the courts and prisons became slave masters. Prison labor was big business, and they needed strong men, disposable men. They worked in the coal mines, they built roads and bridges in the most dangerous of conditions, doing the jobs no employee was willing to do. But the prisoners had no choice. They were often stacked in cages when they weren’t working, left outside in the elements.
   The black community was targeted. A black child could be sent to prison camp for the crime of stealing gum. Sometimes people just disappeared off the streets, never to be heard from again. Often the white convicts were sent to actual prisons, but the black convicts were almost always leased out to do dangerous work under the direst of circumstances. I highly recommend reading “Worse Than Slavery” to get a clear picture of how our prisons have been used to profit off of the backs of black men and women.
   And yet, when crimes committed by whites against blacks occurred, justice was scarce. Kangaroo courts, mistrials, acquittals.
My friend Marques lost his cousin Friday night. He was shot and killed on the streets of Hollywood, Florida on his way to get a hamburger. Imagine being that family and hearing this verdict. What would that tell you about the kind of justice to expect for your own loved one?
   So friends, when you look at this case, and you say to yourself, “Why are they trying to make this about race?” Take a moment to read and study the true history of this country, the legal system, the injustice, the institutional racism that still permeates every aspect of our society whether we want to admit it or not, our own personal biases and prejudices. Stop being so defensive and try to understand. Try to see why just because it doesn’t feel like racism to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
   There is a privilege we have that we don’t even understand because it’s such a part of our lives. We walk down the street every day knowing that people will give us the benefit of the doubt. It never occurs to us that our boys look suspicious just because of the color of their skin, because they don’t. Not in the eyes of the general public. We cannot possibly comprehend what it is like to be black in this country. Most of us do not know what it’s like to be mothers of black or biracial children. To know that the lives of our sons are worth less to society, to each other. Someone earlier wrote that being a black male is often a fatal condition. We cannot possibly comprehend that. Not even a tiny bit.
   I want to end this with something my friend Charles said. It is profound and needs to be heard.
   “Our Judicial System sets the bar when it comes to the “Value” it puts on life by how it protects it. The value of a Black Life is not the same as that of a White Life in our society. That simple message is CONSISTENTLY reinforced in our courts and even adhered to by other Blacks. We don’t value Black Life either because of that fact. I don’t believe human beings are capable of being just. Nothing about history tells me that “Justice” and Equity are human traits. Those in control, fight to stay there. Eventually all societies crumble because of injustice.”
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* http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/

 

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