The making of the Black man into Public Enemy Number 1 began long before a rainy, dark night in a gated Florida community where a White person with a gun would be seen as a gun enthusiast -- a Second Amendment scholar -- but a Black man with a gun could only be a thug. Where an unarmed innocent did not know that he had no rights to innocence. Where a Black child’s skin convicted him on sight. Trayvon Martin had to be guilty of something so George Zimmerman’s defense attorney charged him with being armed with a sidewalk.
The Zimmerman case is not about the hoodie of Trayvon Martin, it’s about the pointy hood of the American criminal justice system. Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, brilliantly chronicles the dogged march of Black men into the jaws of the prison industrial complex. Racial profiling and the “stop and frisk” policies of police, 89 percent unsuccessful for African Americans, have a lot to do with this. But the making of the Black male as Public Enemy Number 1 began before police forces were financially incentivized to make arrests, militarized to wage war against the new crack-crazed, violent, Black people, and long before the prison industry morphed into the prison industrial complex, providing cheap, labor that made it lucrative to lock people up.
Will the Trayvon Martin controversy force people to look at America’s criminal justice system? With all those dark faces peering from prison bars, maybe it’s too reminiscent of slavery, which is a past only to be peeped in slick Quentin Tarantino spaghetti westerns where White people can laugh and congratulate themselves that they no longer use the “n” word. Maybe it’s because the American justice system has more Black people in prison than were forced into chattel slavery. Maybe people, Black and White alike, are too busy battling the recession and trying to do the right thing to worry about people who aren’t.
Will Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, take up the fight? Is he having flashbacks of Medgar Evers whose perpetrators “stood their ground” and were acquitted of murder? Does the death of the Sanford teenager remind him of Emmett Till, another teenager whose White mutilators went free and whose mother displayed his savaged body in an open casket to forever press his gruesome death in our memories.
Holder told the NAACP convention in Orlando, Fla. that his father had told him that his color convicted him in the eyes of most police officers before he could ever reach a jury. He shared that he had passed this lesson on to his own son. Imagine that the attorney general of the United States had to tell his son that, essentially, he is not innocent until proven guilty.
Clearly, with all the Trayvon demonstrations and media coverage of the controversy, this spotlight on the criminal justice system will likely not fade. The uncomfortable subject of race is coming out of the shadows as well. The predictable tactic of the right wingnuts is to blame the victim. People who talk about race are racists. Kind of catchy.
Emery McClendon of the National Center for Public Policy Research says,
"For too long, people such as the NAACP’s Ben Jealous and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have spoke out in hate and ignorance and found placement in the media. It’s time to stop the madness. We must turn the tide. If we put as much time into restoring our Constitution as we did into the Zimmerman trial, America would be a better place for all of us." McClendon, obviously another Second Amendment scholar armed with the Constitution, is clearly not a thug. Nonetheless, this is the first time that I have considered that the Constitution could be ominous.
Auset Marian Lewis is a writer and former columnist for a Gannett newspaper.