Stereotypes, laws, fear, and murder.

trayvon_martin_zimmerman

Okay, there is no way that I can’t write about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial (and yes – they were BOTH on trial). As usual – my views on the issue may not be popular, and I will put this warning right up front: I will be talking about stereotypes, and not all of these stereotypes are going to be welcomed by my black readers. All I ask is that you read it, and hopefully respond by helping out a white person in a black city understand WHY the black community allows the “thug” perception and intimidation to be the norm rather than the exception. That being said; back to the trial…

Anyone who says that this trial was not about race is deluding themselves. It very much IS about race. Had race not been a factor – it is my belief that George Zimmerman would have never been arrested (according to Florida laws). Now, I think Zimmerman needs to be in jail. Not just for shooting Trayvon, but for the multitude of other crimes that he has also avoided prosecution for. Say for instance, being accused of molesting his family member for decades. My problem with this trial is not with Zimmerman – it is with the Florida legal system and the backwards laws and discriminatory application of those laws that are to blame. This jury – as much as I hate to admit it; did what they were asked to do. Reasonable doubt is a powerful thing. However – having an all white female jury that is hearing a case about two non-white men is hardly a jury of your peers; for Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.

I am in the same camp as much of the nation – if George Zimmerman had listened to the police Trayvon would be alive today. However, reasonable doubt was allowed in that courtroom because they put Trayvon and his race and demeanor on trial and that even with the most impartial jury (which wasn’t the case here) what white people know about black people – especially in communities like the one in question here – are convinced that most black people are thugs and embrace being criminals. While this isn’t true for the majority of blacks, in certain communities it is. Like here in Philly.

Living here has opened my eyes to the realities of race relations in our country. Before I lived in Philadelphia I had never felt threatened by any black person anywhere in the world. However – here in Philly I refuse to go into the city after dark, I refuse to ride public transportation, and I refuse to attend ANY free events in the city. You know why? I get harassed by black people just because I am white. I have written about it before so I won’t get into it again. I just know that when I go out – I am a target. Not for violence, but for intimidation. I will be standing in a line and a black person (usually under 18) will cut in front of me and then give me a “what are you going to do about it” look. I respond by looking away because I am not willing to risk my life for my place in line. If I was brave enough to risk my life for a place in line, or a seat on the train – well, I am pretty sure I would have been the victim of violence by now.

So if that is how I feel in Philly, imagine being a racist vigilante in a Southern state? You think Zimmerman even gave Trayvon a chance to just walk? Obviously we know that he didn’t. We know that he saw a black kid and assumed he was up to no good. Trayvon’s conversations with his friend showed that he wasn’t intimidated by Zimmerman, he was pissed that a “cracker” was following him. I honestly believe the part of Zimmerman’s defense where he alleged that Trayvon was the aggressor. Though I don’t think that aggression was physical. I am willing to bet that Trayvon looked at Zimmerman and tried to intimidate him. Maybe a chest bump, maybe a few choice words. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not blaming him for his own death. Zimmerman could have done what I do when challenged and just said what he was doing, “Oh, I am the neighborhood watch guy and I know you don’t live here. Do you have a reason to be here?” That would have been appropriate, but I am not sure that even if he said all the right things that there still would have been a confrontation between these two. Also there is the main fact that should have overshadowed everything else, and that was that Zimmerman called 911 and was told to stand down. He chose not to and that I think is where the crime lies and where he should have been found guilty of the lesser manslaughter charge. With an all white jury though – I don’t think justice for Trayvon was a possibility. Especially since the over confident prosecution laid all their hopes on media bias and national outrage rather than presenting a strong case. With only one eye witness (Zimmerman) well, proving this case beyond reasonable doubt was virtually impossible.

I watch enough crime shows to know though that if the prosecution had spent more time on Zimmerman ignoring the police than on defending their client for being black in the wrong place they may have come out of this thing with the manslaughter charge (there simply wasn’t enough evidence for a murder conviction).

Here is my question though, because in all honesty you can read all about the trial and the different viewpoints and all kinds of commentary on both sides of the issue. What I want answers for is why people like Zimmerman feel the way they do, and why the black communities don’t do more to rid these stereotypes rather than encourage them. I can honestly say that after living here in Philly I have an attitude that will never leave me no matter where I go. I will be fearful of a black kid in a hoodie walking behind me in the dark. I didn’t create this fear. I didn’t have it before I moved here.

I am not a racist person – but I’m not stupid either. If a stereotype is going to save me in the subway then so-be-it, but I shouldn’t have to live like that, especially when 5 years ago a black person walking behind me in a hoodie would have been a non-issue for me. Now it is. I didn’t create that fear. The black citizens of Philadelphia did that. On purpose. They laugh at me when I stand down. What if I was like George Zimmerman though? What if I didn’t stand down, or reacted before a crime was even committed? Could I get off? I bet I could. Even without Stand Your Ground. If I could secure an all white jury in Philly, I could probably go on a shooting spree in the Gallery and get away with it. I was afraid for my life.

Now I am also really sick of white people saying they aren’t racist because they have black friends. I have a TON of black friends – but all the black friends I have, don’t use intimidation to scare people. My black friends don’t dress like thugs or shout obscenities at people walking past them on the street. It isn’t about skin color. It is about attitude. I am not racist because I don’t look down on an entire race or think I am better because of skin color. However, the stereotype I think is more powerful than racism. The stereotype I fear is of the black person who confronts me for looking in the wrong direction on the train, or bumping into them while walking down a busy street, or not giving way when we are both walking toward each other (if I don’t give way – they will bump me on purpose and wait for a reaction) I just don’t give them the reaction, because I value my life more than that. No one should live like that, and these attitudes of young black people (especially in urban areas like Philly) create George Zimmerman’s. What scares me, is that in this particular case, I am not that different from him. I see a young black kid in a hoodie and baggy jeans and I instantly think to myself, “Don’t make eye contact, avoid avoid avoid!” and if I can’t avoid them, I am so overindulgent and nice it is quite unnatural – and I get laughed at for it because they know they “got me” I was afraid and they know it.

I guess what I want to know is this: Why is it that black people do this? Is it payback for the sins of my ancestors? Is it a revolt against civil society that traditionally hasn’t allowed them to be there? Is it racism on their part? Why is being a criminal glorified in the black communities? Why is being an intimidating thug more attractive than making society work together? I guess my point is that I can only understand what I see. I don’t know all the reasons for how or why this segment of the black community has become so prevalent as to create a stereotype of fear.

So while I think George Zimmerman should rot in jail, I also believe the defense on some level that the confrontation was mutual -one of those men should have gone home and either one had the opportunity to do so. That belief comes from my own stereotypes and experiences. I do not blame Trayvon for his death, I blame the culture that he grew up in. I blame the fact that being a thug is glorified. I blame the fact that confrontation is chosen over peace. I blame the laws of Florida, and the attitudes of those in the south towards any person of color. I blame our justice system for being discriminatory. I blame money – because a well funded and informed prosecution could have gotten the manslaughter charge.

So yeah. A lot of blame to go around I guess. Like with many things in this country, I straddle the fence somewhere between right and left. This never should have happened. Rather than focus on this travesty – how about we focus on ensuring that it doesn’t happen anymore? I know that I spend a lot of time talking to racist white people about how silly they are. I spend time trying to change the conversation. I spend time trying to understand. Not saying I am perfect – but I do try to at least create peace instead of encouraging and accepting violence. I would love to see the black communities here in Philly (and other urban black communities) start preaching to each other rather than intimidating me. I want them to stop encouraging this behavior in their own communities. These attitudes start at home – no matter what color you are or what your views are.

This case shows that we have a long long way to go to fix the racial tensions in our country. I am more than willing to do my part in my community and I hope that maybe now black communities (and musicians/rappers/athletes/journalists etc.) promoting that thug/gangster stereotype start teaching the youth that isn’t a good way to live rather then encouraging it. Intimidating people is a great way to CREATE racism and stereotyping. I am not placing all the blame on black communities – I do understand where this came from and in some ways why it is encouraged – but on the same token, it really only breeds more violence and regardless of the race of the people who lose their lives in this “war” – these are almost all avoidable.  Trayvon Martin didn’t have to die. George Zimmerman didn’t have to be a vigilante. Florida needs to repeal “Stand your ground” or rewrite it so that it is applied fairly rather than all the non-black people go free and all the black people go to jail. That kind of justice promotes more violence, because if you can’t get justice in the courts – you will get justice in the streets. I believe George Zimmerman will live the rest of his life in fear – and I think he deserves it. He thought a young unarmed black kid was a threat – now he will learn what real threats look like, because I am sure that he will be targeted for the rest of his natural life (by every person of every race who thinks he got away with murder). So I guess there is some justice in that. In a way, George Zimmerman took his own life that fateful night. Just because he is still breathing doesn’t mean he gets to live. He probably would have been better off in jail (in solitary). As for Trayvon Martin, he is now just another very sad statistic. His family now bears the pain that many families of young black men face – a life lost too soon for no reason at all.

Philly has ruined me in some ways – but in some ways it has opened my eyes to my own prejudices. I think admitting those and talking about them is the answer. So while my views may not be appreciated, please understand where they are coming from and that I think I want the same things as everyone else – I want an end to violence. No matter who initiates it. I want to be a part of the solution, and if that means admitting my own bias and asking those tough questions then I am willing to do that. If we don’t change the conversations in this country, Trayvon Martin won’t be the last kid to die because of how he presents himself, and George Zimmerman won’t be the last vigilante basing his opinions on racial stereotypes (or flat out racism).

15 thoughts on “Stereotypes, laws, fear, and murder.

  1. Nice job. My opinion is that Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop” and he was going to prevent a crime, and the city was then going to be so impressed that they would then make him a cop. He should’ve stayed in the car. I was just talking to my mom (who lives in FL) and she said one of the charges against him should’ve been “stupidity.”

    I work in the city (not as big as Philly, but a good size), and whenever I’m out and someone comes walking towards me (doesn’t matter black/white/Asian), I’ll look them right in the eye and smile and nod. 90% of the time they’ll smile back, or say good morning, or hello ma’am. The other 10% look at me like I’m nuts…lol.

    • Thanks Dal. I always smile, nod, hold doors open… I do that to everyone though. I would say that you are right in that 90% of the time you will get a kind response in return. As Steph always says, “Smiles and kindness are contagious.”

      I am focusing on the negative more than the positive here though because I would like to understand. If I just talk about what an awesome person I am all the time – then I am not being truthful. The kindness is where I prefer to be, but fearful is where I am and I didn’t do anything to deserve that. So the more stuff that happens to me, the more fearful and therefore more prone to stereotyping I become. If people can understand my perceptions, they can respond to them. If I hide my own prejudice in the process how can I ask for truth from anyone else?

  2. Wonderfully written post. I have lived in places, including Philly back in the 60s, where this intimidation is rampant. And I am saddened by it. I had hoped that in my lifetime, racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms’ would have subsided, But given human nature, I’m beginning to think things will never change.

    • Ruth, it saddens me too. I used to get so depressed going to work everyday in the city because I just wanted to talk to people and be in Philadelphia. This could be a great city – and it SHOULD be a great city, but the racial tensions here will prevent that for a long time to come unless people start seriously talking about it.

      No more victims on either side – everyone just has to start being accountable to their own lives and actions, not the chains or whips of our pasts. We need to make today better and we can’t do that until we start having those hard conversations. Sadly, humans haven’t figured it out yet – thankfully our lifetimes aren’t over yet and we have time to see change if we want it bad enough and work together to get it.

  3. This was a thoughtful essay on the complexities of the issue beyond just simply black and white. Answers don’t come easy, but I for one am sure glad that some of us are asking for them.

    • Thanks Story – to me is seems more like a rambling ranty rant rather than an essay, but I’ll take the complement. LOL

      I am willing to ask and answer any question put out there or that pops into my head. Knowledge is power and if we all take the time to learn about ourselves and those who surround us, I think we could have a much less racist/stereotypical country.

  4. There are dangerous types in all colors. There’s a subgroups of the redneck stereotype that are dangerous to gays. There’s the Islamic fundamentalist, there’s the creepy guy who could be a rapist. I’m on break at work – so I can’t continue this list.
    Does stereotyping help protect us from danger?
    Won’t there always be bullies that want to take our power?
    I pray for a happy peaceful world, but we’re in this one.

    • Yes, I agree with you. I don’t hang with white trash people either. I won’t move to the south for the same reasons you mention. I know there are certainly places where I am not welcome because of my sexuality – however, I have never experienced what I do here in Philly. Also, I’m pretty fair, I have asked Christians why they allow people to hijack their faith, Catholics why they tolerate pedophile priests, etc. I just have questions and I look for answers.

      The reason this post is “Black and White” is because of the Trayvon Martin case. This is very much a black issue – and if black people want to understand why some racist nutjob shot a young unarmed boy – I am explaining maybe where that fear and prejudice come from in an honest way.

      I too want a happy world, but I am trying to do more about it than just “pray” by telling the truth and asking questions and trying to promote civil conversation about the issues that separate us.

  5. 2 cents from asian person. I see black kid, 1 am in the morning, in the hoodie, I am not afraid. I see bunch of white kids in the middle of the day on the same side of the street, I am afraid of being racially attacked, called names, etc. draw conclusions on your own….

      • I concur. We are one human race, and until we figure out how to talk openly and honestly about things – they won’t change. I really want change.

    • Civic, thank you for your comment. I think that is the point though. Every race has a different perspective. I don’t judge people I meet based on race, but I am willing to admit that I do hold certain stereotypes based on my experiences here in Philly – which is what this post was about. It was in response to an article about being white in Philly – and I understand now how it feels to be “picked” on because of my skin color. I am not saying I face the same challenges, or that my little experience here dictates how I feel about an entire race of people. I was merely acknowledging what the article said about being white here in Philly.

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