Trayvon Martin and Fear of Black Men: This Happens too Much

I think everyone should be able to agree that freedom should include being able to walk down the street innocently without being shot. When it does happen, freedom should include authorities seeking justice for your death. While some are using the example of using drone strikes to take out people who are committed to mass killings of Americans (and it’s a valid question to be debated), few if any of those same people are using the same energy to confront a problem that is far more threatening to the freedoms of a great many more people, and which is far more common. Apparently, black men are so threatening to the (mostly white) populace that they are being shot with alarming frequency, and many are getting away with it. We all know “Driving While Black” is a crime in a number of jurisdictions. But “walking while black” apparently too often carries a death sentence.

One thing that bothers me most about the shooting of Trayvon Martin is that it doesn’t seem to bother enough people.

The short version of the story is, on February 26, Trayvon and his father were visiting friends, who live in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, a community near Orlando. Trayvon, who was black, decided to take a walk to the local 7-11. As he was coming back, a 28-year-old white “neighborhood watch captain” in an SUV, George Zimmerman, decided the unarmed black teenager pictured here looked “suspicious”, and called 911. The 911 dispatcher promised to send police and told Zimmerman to do nothing. Zimmerman apparently ignored the admonition and went after the kid anyway. Trayvon was armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman was armed with a 9mm handgun. By the time police arrived, Trayvon was lying face down in the grass, fatally wounded in the chest.

Again, that was February 26, and to date, Zimmerman is free, and there is talk that he may skate by claiming self-defense. Yes, self-defense. A 28-year-old man was so AFRAID of that 17-year-old kid that Florida authorities will let him stay a free man.



Now, I want you to read up on this case, because it’s fascinating. Listen to the 911 calls, which are chilling, because they show Martin calling for help before being shot. Also, you should call everyone you can, and demand that this Zimmerman person pay with a considerable amount of time in a prison. Here is a list of authorities to contact to do so.  There’s a lot of talk about this case right now, finally, after three weeks of inaction by Sanford, Florida police. But what’s most bothersome about this case is that it’s not as unique as it should be. As I said, black men are still really scary to white people and police, and that fear apparently creates something of a license to kill.


Though Trayvon’s case is important, there’s another case out there we should all be paying attention to, over in New Orleans. On March 7, an unarmed 20-year-old black man, Wendell Allen, was shot in the chest by NOPD officer Joshua Colclough as the officer served a narcotics search warrant. Not only was Allen unarmed, there have thus far been no reports of the officer being attacked or even threatened. It took a week for the Police Department to address the shooting with a press release, announcing that Officer Colclough gave a voluntary statement. To date, there has been no interview or incident report. When Allen’s family and citizens’ groups demanded answers, NOPD basically told them to wait and see.

 

On February 1, 2012, Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black 19-year-old in the Bronx was shot in the chest and killed by a plainclothes officer, who chased Graham into his house before shooting him in the chest, in front of his mother.

His terrible crime? The NYPD Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit didn’t catch him dealing drugs, or looking for drugs. They saw him adjust his waistband, and thought he had a gun. According to initial reports, when a plainclothes officer came toward him, Graham – who had a small amount of marijuana on him, and who had two prior minor arrests for marijuana and burglary – supposedly ran. Initial reports were unclear as to whether Graham knew the officers were police when he ran from them.

Unfortunately for police, really clear surveillance video at the scene shows a different story.

 



 

Graham is seen walking into his house, not running, and closing the door behind him. Two plainclothes officers are then clearly seen forcefully entering the home, without a warrant, just before they shot the unarmed Graham. Again, he’s dead for adjusting his waistband on the street.

 

On June 26, 2011, a 49-year-old black man, James Craig Anderson, was approached and run over by two truckloads of teenagers in Mississippi who just happened to be looking for a black man to kill. The teens beat Anderson repeatedly, screaming “White Power!” according to witnesses, before climbing back into a green Ford F250 pickup truck and running over Anderson, killing him instantly.



 

At least in this case, the teenagers involved will suffer consequences. But this sort of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

 

A BART police officer shot an unarmed 22-year-old black man, Oscar Grant, on New Year’s Day 2009, as he was face down on a subway platform in Oakland, after Grant had been taken off the train on suspicion of fighting. Bystanders took video of the encounter, which went viral. The officer, Johannes Mehserle, claims he inadvertently pulled out his gun when reaching for his taser. He was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and was released last June, after serving 11 months of a 2-year sentence in Los Angeles County Jail.

 



 

On March 20, 2010, two Los Angeles Police officers,  Allan Corrales and George Diego, with the Gang Enforcement Unit claim they heard a loud noise. They turned their cruiser around to investigate, when they saw Steven Eugene Washington, a 27-year-old black man, looking around and touching his waistband. When they called out to Washington, he started toward them, while he seemed to take something from his waistband. Immediately, the officers fired on him, shooting him in the head and killing him.

According to his family, Washington was autistic and learning disabled, and was generally fearful of strangers. LAPD police chief Charlie Beck recommended that Corrales and Diego be cleared, but the Los Angeles Police Commission said the shooting was not justified. The ACLU has called for the LAPD to review their policies.

 

  

After Portland, Oregon police answered a call to check on a report of a suicidal and armed man at an apartment complex, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, Aaron Campbell, came out of the apartment, walking backward with his hands over his head. According to police, however, Campbell had ignored orders to put his hands up. Police shot Campbell six times in the back with bean bags. When Campbell instinctively reached around to the part of his back where the bag hit, Officer Ronald Frashour, who later claimed he saw Campbell reach both hands around his back and to his waistband to get a gun, shot him in the back with his assault rifle.

Frashour was later fired for what police officials determined was an inappropriate use of force, because their investigation determined that Campbell was not posing an immediate threat of death or physical injury. The police union is appealing the decision, currently. While the city of Portland settled a civil suit with Campbell’s family for $1.2 million, no criminal charges have been or will be filed in the case. According to the Grand Jury that heard and dismissed the case, "We feel that his death resulted from flawed police policies, incomplete or inappropriate training, incomplete communication and other issues with the police effort.”



 

A black teenager, 17-year-old Victor Demarius Steen of Pensacola, Florida, was riding a bicycle “suspiciously” near a construction site at about 1:50 a.m. October 4, 2009. When Steen rode away from the site, Police officer Jerald Ard pursued him, asking him to stop and using his cruiser’s lights, according to a Pensacola Police press release. When Steen didn’t stop, Ard then tried to use a Taser to shock him. After firing the Taser (reports are unclear whether Steen received a shock), Steen pulled into a bank parking lot, where he crashed his bicycle and was run over by Ard’s cruiser, and dragged until the car finally came to a stop at a parking lot median. Steen was pronounced dead at the scene.



 



 

After an investigation, Officer Ard was allowed to return to work.

 

You should remember this case. On November 25, 2006, 23-year-old Sean Bell was about to be married, and he was enjoying his bachelor party at a strip club in Queens. The club was being investigated by seven undercover NYPD detectives, because they suspected there was prostitution going on. One of Bell’s friends got into a monor altercation outside the club. The undercover detectives followed Bell to his car, and when Bell didn’t stop, the police fired 50 bullets into the vehicle within a few seconds, killing Bell and seriously wounding two friends. There are conflicting reports as to the orders to stop; the police, of course, say they did identify themselves, while the surviving friends of Bell say that didn’t happen. 

Three of the officers were put on trial for manslaughter later and were acquitted.

 

These are just stories I could find relatively easily. I probably missed some.  There’s also Amadou Diallo, the Haitian immigrant who was shot 41 times by NYPD for wielding a wallet.

I appreciate the work done by those who Occupy everything they can find. I also appreciate the energy expended on such activities as getting rid of misogynist Limbaugh. But I worry about the relative lack of anything other than empathy for the families of the families of these people? Where are the marches and the demands for justice? I see African American activists speaking out on some of these, but they can’t do it all themselves. Is it too much to ask that all Americans, and especially American progressives get at least as incensed about the maltreatment of completely innocent black citizens who are targeted for being black as they get about a Yemeni resident who was targeted based on his plans to kill Americans.

Is that too much to ask? I'm not saying don't be pissed that Awlaki's killed, if you feel that way. But pay attention to the massacre happening to innocents at home, too.