A July 16 Post and Courier editorial on the George Zimmerman trial argued that the defense successfully proved that Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he killed Trayvon Martin and that race was not a factor in the case.
An accompanying opinion column by attorney Debra Gammons made the same argument, suggested that we black males are our own worst enemies and that black-on-black crime should be our primary community focus.
The editorial, which also criticized President Obama for saying last year, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” and then patronizingly praised his “responsible” and restrained statement after the trial, exemplifies the difficulty in having an honest American discussion about race when many citizens deny the existence of racism and call those who say otherwise the real racists.
Ms. Gammons’ legal acumen shows in her column. I’d remind her, however, of the civil concept of the “preponderance of the evidence.” The preponderance of the evidence — statistical and anecdotal — is plain when if comes to America’s flawed justice system.
Statistics show that white Floridians who “stand their ground” are overwhelmingly more likely to walk free than black Floridians who do the same. A black woman named Marissa Alexander “stood her ground” and fired warning shots to deter her physically abusive boyfriend’s attack. Her reward was conviction and a 20-year prison sentence in the same jurisdiction and with the same prosecutor who did an amazingly poor job on the Zimmerman case.
The defense in the Zimmerman case successfully bolstered their “self-defense” argument by skillfully turning a dead 17-year-old child into an archetypical, menacing and dangerous black thug.
A recent American Civil Liberties Union study statistically proved that while black and white marijuana usage rates are virtually the same, the arrest and conviction rate for black citizens is overwhelmingly higher. Those on death rows across the nation, regardless of color, are statistically more likely to have killed white people than black people.
Most black men I know can relate stories of being suspiciously viewed by the citizenry, as was Trayvon Martin, or blatantly profiled by the police. During his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama told those who claimed that he wasn’t “black enough,” “No one asks if I’m ‘black enough’ when I try unsuccessfully to hail a cab in a major city at night.”
Most black parents still have “the talk” with their children — especially their sons — on how to be inordinately careful, courteous and all but subservient when stopped by the police, lest something tragic happens. Multigenerational experience mandates that conversation.
The preponderance of the evidence shows that American justice is not color blind. Citizens of good will need to work to correct that, elect responsible people who will shape equitable public policy and promote honest conversations about race.
I suggest to Ms. Gammons that we can do those things while dealing with “black on black” crime, for multitasking isn’t all that difficult. I also encourage her to be cautious about decrying “black on black” crime unless she is willing to make the same argument about “white on white” crime — which happens every day, too.
Would she urge white Americans to drop everything to stop the escalating use of crystal meth in the white community? Would she demand that we be cautious and suspicious of all young white men, since the majority of recent mass murders in America have been committed by young white men?
I hope she would not, since that would be as erroneous, ludicrous and ridiculous as seeing all young black men as threats. My two successful sons and their many responsible and capable black peers deserve better.
America can also grow up, do better and become a more just nation if we take the time to talk to each other and respect each other’s views and life experience.
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.