Friday, July 19, 2013

Equal Justice Is An American Value (Isn't It?)

Last night on AC360, Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, said the importance of the Justice Department review of the Trayvon Martin case and the Stand Your Ground law is so that parents know what to tell their children.

He raised a more chilling question, too. When the next child is murdered in a Stand Your Ground state, what do you think the defendant will say?

In June, right after the Zimmerman jury selection, Attorney Crump said:

"Well, you know, we've said all along this case is about equal justice. Equal justice under the law is not a black value, it's not a white value, it's an American value. And with the make-up of this jury, five white women and one hispanic, it's gonna be the question can every American get equal justice no matter who sits on your jury. And so, they're just praying that they can get justice for their child."

Sadly and disgustingly, we know how that worked out.

In a gut-wrenching chronology, Journalist Charles Blow enumerated the many ways the system failed Trayvon Martin.

Then, he asked what parents are asking, "What do I tell my boys?"

The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies — like stop-and-frisk, and in this case neighborhood watch — regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.

As a parent, particularly a parent of black teenage boys, I am left with the question, “Now, what do I tell my boys?”

We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly.

So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?

And can they ever stop walking away, or running away, and simply stand their ground? Can they become righteously indignant without being fatally wounded?

Laura Murphy, Director of the Washington ACLU Legislative Office, provided these compelling and ludicrous rules of conduct, in her piece "A Mother's Rules for Being Young, Black and Male."

Right now we send our Black children disturbingly contradictory signals on how to conduct themselves so that they are free from discrimination and violence. Here are a few examples:

1) Black boys and men should not walk too quickly or run because that suggests they've done something wrong. They also should not walk too slowly because that suggests they must be looking for trouble.

2) Young black men should not put their hands in their pockets but should instead always keep their hands where others can see them. They should also avoid gesticulating, because others might misinterpret their gestures as aggressiveness.

3) Black boys and men should wear business attire at all times because casual clothes—especially hoodies—suggest they're up to no good.

4) Black youth should never hang out with more than three friends at one time, because large groups are likely to be mistaken for a gang. They should also be careful about walking alone—young men hanging out by themselves, like Trayvon Martin, are suspicious.

5) When shopping, whether at a grocery store or a department store, young Black men should check out quickly in order to avoid suspicion. But they should not check out too quickly, because that means they've pocketed merchandise on their way out.

6) Young black men should never make eye contact with others because it is threatening; they should never avert their eyes because that looks furtive.

7) Black men must be careful about walking, driving, or flying while black, especially in neighborhoods or in destinations where there are typically not a lot of black people. But they should avoid low income neighborhoods, because that is where the police are even more inclined to respond with brutality and arrest.

8) And the most important lesson of all to be learned from this tragedy is that Black boys and men must be careful about defending themselves because, no matter what happens, they will be seen as the aggressor.

She ends with a call to action.

"I simply don't know what to tell my son about how to live his life under these circumstances. I have known for a long time that there is nothing I can do to protect my son from prejudice. But I simply refuse to accept that there is nothing I can do to protect him from violence. This is the current reality that my son and countless parents like me face, but we cannot stop here.

We must call on the Justice Department to update the guidance on the use of race in federal law enforcement, and we must get Congress to Pass the End Racial Profiling Act, for the sake of my son and Black children across the country."

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