COMPLICATED PICTURE: After a week of protests and media hysteria, the Trayvon Martin case has taken yet another turn as information emerges that calls Trayvon's character into question.
Yesterday was the one month anniversary of when Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. If it weren’t for the work of journalists, this story would never have made national news and the U.S. Department of Justice would not be investigating the case for civil rights violations. Neither would a grand jury have been convened in Florida to hear evidence about it, nor would the Sanford, Florida, police chief have “temporarily” left his post and been replaced with a black man. But, if it weren’t for the work of journalists, the rush to judgment about the case also would not have happened.
In the past week, we’ve learned that Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She has said that Martin told her someone was following him and that she heard Martin ask the man why before a scuffle broke out between them. But Sanford Police Department sources told the Orlando Sentinel that Zimmerman said Martin attacked him as he was walking back to his SUV and that Martin tried to take his gun and slammed his head into the ground.
Maligning and Defending Trayvon Martin’s Character
Conservative websites have begun to malign the character of Martin, who had been portrayed as a wholesome teen. They published pictures and status updates that they claimed were taken from Martin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to show that he had tattoos and gold teeth and implied he sold drugs, as if these supposed facts were somehow relevant. But a website reportedly owned by conservative pundit Michelle Malkin issued an apology for publishing one widely circulated photo, saying it was not, in fact, the Trayvon Martin who was shot to death by Zimmerman. And journalist Geraldo Rivera was roundly criticized, even by his own son, for suggesting that Martins’s choice of attire was as responsible for his death as Zimmerman was.
In response, Martin’s parents held a press conference. His father, Tracy Martin, said, “Even in death, they are still disrespecting my son, and I feel that that’s a sin.” His mother, Sybrina Fulton, said, “They killed my son, and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” The family is asking for donations to keep their fight for justice going and Fulton has reportedly filed for trademarks to the phrases “I am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon.” She, of course, has been criticized for that. Martin’s friends, meanwhile, say they can’t imagine Trayvon picking a fight with anyone.
Catalyst for National Discussion
On Friday, President Obama spoke out on the killing, saying we all need to do “some soul searching” and if he had a son, the boy would look like Trayvon. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich immediately pounced on Obama’s statement, suggesting the president’s comments were racially divisive. At the same time, Gingrich and fellow GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each called Martin’s death a “tragedy,” and Santorum suggested that Zimmerman’s actions were different from those protected by Florida’s “stand your ground” laws.
On Sunday, Christians (mostly black ones) wore hoodies to church in solidarity with Martin. On Monday, New York State legislators wore them on the senate floor. Everyone seemed to be talking about having “the talk” with their black children, and people, including me, began asking why white evangelical leaders have been largely silent on the issue. Others, including one former NAACP leader, accused the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson of exploiting the situation.
Some, like Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Efrem Smith, wondered where the outrage is about black-on-black crime. Smith posted a series of tweets noting the lack of attention these victims receive. “A couple of months ago in Oakland multiple young blacks were victims of violent crime by other blacks but Al Sharpton didn’t come to town,” he said. Why not?
‘Justice Doesn’t Alienate Anyone’
Although Zimmerman’s friends continue to defend him and the authors of Florida’s “stand your ground” law defend it, Regent University law professor David Velloney told CBN News that if Zimmerman “was following [Martin] in somewhat of a menacing manner and he violently, or aggressively approached the teenager, then he becomes the initial aggressor in this situation and really then he loses that right to self-defense.”
I’ll give Velloney the last word on the case for now, because amidst all the discussion, debate, and hype, his comment gets to the heart of why this story blew up in the first place. People reacted to a grave, familiar injustice that was aided by an unjust interpretation of what may be an unjust law. Now that the road to justice has finally been cleared for the Martin family, perhaps it’s time we all calm down and take the words of Bishop T.D. Jakes to heart. “Justice doesn’t alienate anyone. It is truth,” Jakes told CBN News. “It is consistent with Scriptures that we investigate, and that we support the defense for all human life.” Amen to that.
WE ARE TRAYVON: Thousands of protesters demanded justice for Trayvon Martin during the Million Hoodie March on March 21 in New York's Union Square. (Photo: Christopher Sadowski/Newscom)
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is perhaps the most-talked-about news story of this past week, yet a casual scan of Facebook pages and other social media suggests the outrage over Martin’s death does not extend that far beyond the African American community. That’s unfortunate, because this is a story that should upset all Americans, regardless of race, especially those of us in the Christian community.
Trayvon, an African American teenager, was walking down a Central Florida sidewalk when he was targeted by an overzealous neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. Some sort of confrontation ensued and Trayvon, who was unarmed, was slain by Zimmerman, who claims he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense. The shooting has raised enough suspicions about the incident being racially motivated that the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have opened investigations.
Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, told CNN, “I think that’s an issue that Mr. Zimmerman himself considers as someone suspicious — a black kid with a hoodie on, jeans, tennis shoes. Thousands of people wear that outfit every day, so what was so suspicious about Trayvon that Zimmerman felt as though he had to confront him?”
The charge brought to mind a recent college class I taught in which I was interrupted in the middle of my lecture by a student who challenged a fact I had just presented about the frequency of highway drug arrests. “I don’t believe it,” he stated. “I was in a car that was stopped once by the cops and we weren’t arrested even though they found marijuana.”
“Where were you, how many of you were in the car,” I asked, “and what races?”
The answer was that he and the four male teens were in a rural area of Ohio not far from their homes, and they were all white.
“So do you think your race and location had anything to do with not being arrested?” I asked. He didn’t.
I knew then I needed a set of facts to convey the reality that he and the other all-white class of students in my college course weren’t able to see — precisely because they were white and had never been viewed suspiciously in their hometowns because of the color of their skin. Michelle Alexander’s much-discussed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, provided those facts.
22 Facts That Challenge Perceptions
As we worked through Michelle Alexander’s book over the course of the next couple of weeks, my students began to rethink their assumptions about how post-racial we as a society really are, even in an era of civil rights and a black president. This happened as they began to understand the reality of what Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor, coins the “criminalblackman.” In condensed form, here are the 22 statistics from her book that — cumulatively grasped — served as the scalpel for removing the colorblind scales from my white students’ eyes:
• To return to 1970 incarceration rates today, we would need to release 4 of every 5 inmates. (p. 218)
• Federal law requires that states permanently exclude anyone with a drug-related felony from receiving federally funded public assistance. (p. 153)
• Inmates work in prison for less than minimum wage, often for $3.00 an hour but as low as 25 cents an hour, even though child alimony and other payments continue to accrue. (p. 152)
• In the last 25 years, multiple fees have been added for those awaiting trial. These include jail book-in fees, jail per diems to cover “room and board” while awaiting trial, public defender application fees, and bail investigation fees. (p. 150)
• Post-conviction fees include public defender recoupment fees, work-release program fees, parole fees, probation fees. Example: Ohio courts can order probationers to pay a $50 monthly supervision fees as a condition of probation. (p. 150)
• Four of five drug arrests are for possession, not sales, of drugs. (p. 59)
• More than 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses since the drug war began. (p. 59)
• There were 3,000 SWAT deployments a year in the early 1980s, but 30,000 by 2001. Driven by federal grants based on arrests, special tactic teams often act in military fashion as they “blast into people’s homes, typically in the middle of the night, throwing grenades, shouting, and pointing guns and rifles at anyone inside, often including young children.” (p. 74)
• Forfeiture laws (which allow local police departments to keep a substantial portion of seized assets and cash) are frequently used to allow those with assets to buy their freedom, resulting in most major kingpins getting short sentences or no sentences while small-time dealers or users incur long sentences. (p. 78)
• Tens of thousands of poor go to jail each year without ever having talked to a lawyer. In Wisconsin, 11,000 indigent people go to court without legal representation since anyone who earns more than $3,000 a year is considered capable of hiring a lawyer. (p. 83)
• Prosecutors routinely “load up” defendants with extra and questionable charges to force them to plead guilty rather than risk longer prison sentences resulting from the trumped up charges. (p. 86)
• Some federal judges have quit in protest over minimum sentencing laws, including one conservative judge who quit after being forced by minimum sentencing requirements to impose a five-year sentence on a mother in Washington, D.C., convicted of “possession” of crack found by police in a box her son had hidden in her attic. (p. 91)
• Most people convicted of a felony are not sentenced to prison. In 2008, 2.3 million people were in prisons and jails, but another 5.1 million were under probation or on parole. (p. 92)
• Even those convicted of a felony for a small amount of drugs are barred from public housing by law and made ineligible for feed stamps. (p. 92)
• By 2000, about as many people were returned to prison for parole violations as were admitted to prison in 1980 for all reasons. One can be returned to prison for any number of parole violations, including being found in the presence of another convicted felon. (p. 93)
• “Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.” (p. 97)
• White young people have three times the number of drug-related emergency room visits as do black youth. (p. 97)
• In 2006, 1 of every 14 African Americans was behind bars, compared to 1 of every 106 European Americans. (p. 98)
• A study of Maryland highway stops found that only 17 percent of drivers along a stretch of I-95 outside of Baltimore were black, but black people comprised 70 percent of those stopped and searched for drugs. This was the case even though the study found that whites who were stopped were more likely to be found actually carrying contraband in their vehicles than people of color. (p. 131)
• States typically have mandatory sentencing for drunk driving (a statistically “white” crime with 78 percent of arrests being white males) of two days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days for a second offense, but the “black” crime of possessing even tiny amounts of cocaine carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. (p. 201)
• White ex-offenders may actually have an easier time gaining employment than African Americans without a criminal record. “To be a black man is to be thought of as a criminal, and to be a black criminal is to be despicable — a social pariah. To be a white criminal is not easy, by any means, but as a white criminal you are not a racial outcast, though you may face many forms of social and economic exclusion. Whiteness mitigates crime, whereas blackness defines the criminal.” (p. 193)
The one statistic, however, that finally broke through the rural white Midwestern defenses was this one: “Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color” (p. 7).
Continued on page 2.
—As Republican presidential candidates make their final pitches to the 41 percent of “likely caucusgoers” who are still undecided, charges of bigotry are flying. Here’s a breakdown:
Evangelicals Oppose Romney’s Faith; He Opposes Dream Act
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney faces prejudice in Iowa from evangelicals who are “suspicious” of his Mormon faith, The Washington Post reports, and Romney himself risks alienating Latino voters with his promise to veto the Dream Act for everyone except those who serve in the military. The act would conditionally allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country under the age of 16 to be eligible for legal status.
Santorum Opposes Gays; Journalist Opposes Him and the ‘Jesus Freaks’ Who Support Him
Meanwhile, social conservatives are rallying behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, even disillusioned ones like Chris La Tondresse, founder and CEO of an organization called Recovering Evangelical. In a column at CNN.com, La Tondresse said “there’s no questioning Santorum’s social conservative bona fides,” but “more than any other Republican candidate (and even more than some Democrats), Santorum speaks openly and passionately about his concern for poor and vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world.”
David Brooks concurred at The New York Times, saying the working class raised Santorum “goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the ‘supply-siders,'” “scorns the Wall Street bailouts,” and couches his economic arguments as “values arguments” that root “long-term competitiveness” in strong families and “wholesome communities.”
This is where Santorum gets in trouble with folks like Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large for The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices channel. Signorile said Santorum, who opposes same-sex marriage, wants to “forcibly” break up those marriages, giving “‘special privileges’ to people based on sexual orientation.” And, at Buzzfeed, Andrew Kaczynski reminds readers that in January 2011, Santorum said President Obama should oppose abortion because he is black.
Ron Paul Opposes the Civil Rights Act, Can’t Escape Racist Newsletters
The bigotry discussion that has dominated the race lately, however, is all about U.S. Congressman Ron Paul—specifically his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his connection to racist newsletters published under his byline in the 1980s and 1990s.
At Salon, Michael Lind succinctly said that “by equating the Civil Rights Act, which expanded American civil liberty, with the Patriot Act, which reduced it, on the grounds that both are federal laws with sanctions, Ron Paul displays the moral idiocy of someone who declares that a person who pushes a little old lady out of the path of a bus is just as bad as a person who pushes a little old lady into the path of a bus, because both are equally guilty of pushing little old ladies around.”
“It certainly is possible that Ron Paul never read [the] publications produced in his own name, just as it’s possible to sincerely believe that the Civil Rights Act destroyed personal liberties, and it’s possible to sincerely believe that if you are going to vote, you should be able to read the names of the candidates, or that Lincoln destroyed the original values of the republic. But it’s also true that those beliefs have long been used to shield more odious ones,” said Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.
Calling Out the Watchdogs?
Finally, while The Week offered five theories as to why the Iowa caucuses are important, New York Times columnist Gail Collins said they’re not. “On Tuesday, there will be a contest to select the preferred candidate of a small group of people who are older, wealthier and whiter than American voters in general, and more politically extreme than the average Iowa Republican,” said Collins, with nary a hint of bias.
Perhaps she should read Get Religion, where media critic Mollie Hemmingway turned the spotlight back on journalists by excoriating University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom for writing an apparent diatribe in The Atlantic that allegedly characterized Iowans as “uneducated Jesus freaks.” Hemmingway reported that both Columbia Journalism Review and The Associated Press also came down heavy on Bloom and The Atlantic.
What Do You Think?
Is bigotry an important issue in the 2012 race or is it a distraction?
Given that court cases claiming reverse discrimination have been litigated since the 1970s, perhaps it’s not surprising that a new study shows whites think they are more discriminated against than blacks. Combine this finding with a host of other new facts and figures, however, and you get a lot of evidence suggesting these whites need a reality check.
The study was conducted by Tufts University psychology professor Samuel Sommers and Harvard Business School professor Michael I. Norton. They found that both blacks and whites believe racism against blacks has declined in the last 60 years, but whites believe the situation is now reversed, with racism against them surpassing racism against blacks.
In a nation-wide sample of 208 blacks and 209 whites, some 11% of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum rating on the scale, while only 2% of whites gave the maximum rating for anti-Black bias. Sommers and Norton found no significant variation for other demographic factors like respondent age or education. They also said “whites linked lower levels of anti-black bias with higher levels of anti-White bias.”
“This emerging perspective is particularly notable because by nearly any metric—from employment to police treatment, loan rates to education—statistics continue to indicate drastically poorer outcomes for Black than White Americans,” the researchers concluded.
Coincidentally, last week Gallup published results of a poll that indicated 30 percent of African Americans think unemployment is the nation’s biggest problem while only 19 percent of whites think so. (Senior citizens and those earning less than $30,000 per year also named unemployment as the top problem, while Americans overall said it is the economy in general.)
Meanwhile the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on June 3 that the unemployment rate for May was “essentially unchanged” from the previous month. That rate was 16.2 percent for blacks, 11.9 percent for Hispanics, and 8 percent for whites.
An article yesterday at The Grio reported this rate as a factor in the disproportionate impact of the housing market collapse on African Americans. Other factors include “stricter credit score requirements, a severe decline in loans made to blacks, and predatory lending.”
“After peaking at 50 percent in 2006, the African-American home ownership rate has now fallen to 44.8 percent, Census Bureau data show. By comparison, the home ownership rate for whites in the U.S. is 74.1 percent, and the nation’s overall home ownership rate currently stands at 66.4 percent,” the article said.
Additionally, “The Center for Responsible Lending calculates that about 11 percent of African-American homeowners are in some stage of foreclosure, and that 1.1 million black families will lose their homes by 2012.” If the Qualified Residential Mortgage Rule that is being recommended by Federal regulators is signed into law, buyers will be required to put at least 20 percent down when purchasing a house, sending home ownership further out of reach for many Americans no matter their race, The Grio reported.
Finally, in our statistical mash-up, Psych Central reports that researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California interviewed 1,271 black men and found that they reported better mental health overall than whites, but the kinds of realities reported in these other statistics threaten it.
The National Survey of American Life: Coping with Stress in the 21st Century indicates that “lower socioeconomic standing including lower levels of education, unemployment and poverty were associated with poorer mental health status” in black men, but “only one out of 20 respondents reported major depressive disorder during the previous 12-month period,” and only 3 percent indicated the presence of serious psychological distress. “Overall, these prevalence rates are relatively low compared to non-Hispanic whites,” Psych Central concluded. (It’s important to note, however, that African Americans are less likely to seek and receive quality treatment for mental health concerns.)
Is there anything significant to be derived from the fact that whites think they’re being discriminated against more than blacks, while blacks actually are but report better mental health overall? Tell us what you think.