Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin and "Making It About Race"

cross-posted from Dagblog

Whenever an unarmed black person gets shot to death, the way Trayvon Martin was, you'll hear some people defend the shooter by claiming that the shooting wasn't racist, and how dare you judge what's in the shooter's heart? The shooter would have killed any unarmed person for walking down the street in a sweatshirt, or walking down the street with a wallet, or performing whatever "suspicious" everyday activity prompted the homicide. The defense is that the killer is not a racist, but a universal menace to society. This is supposed to be reassuring somehow. It's a thoroughly illogical defense. It even suggests that no matter what the person making the argument says, and no matter what they tell themselves, they know in their hearts that racism was the motive for the violence. In fact, their own sense of safety is based on their rock-bottom belief that the killing was racist.

Anyone who sincerely believed that George Zimmerman was equally likely to kill a white teenager, or a teenager of any other race, who happened down the street with a packet of Skittles would want Zimmerman disarmed and off the streets yesterday. They certainly wouldn't be talking about being reasonable and making sure Zimmerman wasn't judged in the media and casting about for anything that could be twisted into "reasonable doubt." If you really thought Zimmerman was just as likely to kill your son, your grandson, your nephew, as he was to kill Trayvon Martin, for exactly the same reasons, you would demand that Zimmerman be held without bail.

In the same way, if you really believed that the New York City Police (for example), were likely to shoot any unarmed civilian in the city 41 times over a minor misunderstanding (for example), you would want massive firings and new leadership from outside the force. You wouldn't feel safe walking the streets until you'd been convinced that the whole department had been shaken up and radically changed its ways. You wouldn't get all mealy-mouthed about the thin blue line or how cops "need to do whatever they have to to be safe." You'd know that until things changed in the police force you would not be safe. And that would be intolerable.

No. When someone defends a killing like Trayvon Martin's or tries to find a way to justify it, they are admitting that they do not believe themselves to be in any danger. They believe themselves, and their loved ones, to be safe because they believe that only an African-American could be killed for such little reason. They not only believe that black men and black teenagers are in special danger of being shot and killed but count on that danger being racially biased, count on the danger hovering over another part of the population and not over their own. They are sure that the "Stand Your Ground" law will not permit someone to shoot them or theirs, are sure that quick-triggered police will never shoot them or their sons. Anyone who says that these capricious homicides aren't about race is only saying that because they know it is about race, and because they're okay with that. 

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