Almost a week ago, I came across a CBS interview of Colin Powell questioning the verdict that was rendered in the Trayvon Martin case. Powell, a long-time Republican, crossed his arms as he expressed praise for President Obama’s address to the country shortly after the verdict.
President Obama directly discussed contemporary race relations for what may have been the first time in front of the entire country in his presidential tenure. Powell, who endorsed Obama in both 2008 and 2012, spoke of the challenge to acknowledge the progress our country has made thus far, yet highlighted the continuing need to repudiate racial bias that still exists in many parts of our country.Colin Powell as an African-American man, no matter how successful and renowned, cannot deny what he sees as racial injustices and bias in this country.
As a young black man, I too find myself sensitive to the decision rendered in the Martin case – perhaps more so than anything, because of the historical context in which I viewed the case. For me, I was reminded of the traumatic memory of the acquittal of the killers of Emmett Till, and of the not-guilty verdicts issued in the cases of preventable deaths of men of color, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo (both men were killed by police officers dressed in civilian clothes).
That historical context, as President Obama himself stated, is essential in evaluating the response to the perceived injustice felt by “Black America” after the case’s outcome. With the Martin case however, I cannot help but notice the lack of evidence presented by the prosecution to convince me George Zimmerman acted due to racial hatred. Instead it seems to be an instance of racial profiling gone extremely wrong. While they are both forms of racial bias, to say they are equivalent is misguided.
Recently another popular case has come to my attention allowing my perspective to expand: the recent killing of white baseball player Chris Lane, who was murdered by three teenagers (two of whom were black; one of whom admitted the killing was somewhat racially motivated). Clearly, there are differences to note in juxtaposing the cases – the perpetrators were teenagers and were apprehended immediately. But I cannot help but notice the divide between empathy and opinions on the cases with notable, paralleling racial lines.
The vehement positions that I have encountered thus far – that often shape discussion of the cases – seem to reflect the context in which one sees the world , which can largely be related to racial identification. That is to say, I can imagine it to be much easier to empathize with the fear of finding yourself in a situation similar to Chris Lane’s. Vice versa, as a young black man, I understand the emotions that arise as a victim of profiling. That is not to say, however, that it is impossible to empathize across racial lines.
Unfortunately, both of these cases are unpleasant but necessary reminders of the racial tensions our country still faces. We, as Americans, have the privilege of living in a heterogeneous society, but are also tasked with the responsibility of mitigating the occurrences of racially charged violence continuously. This is a task that contemporary events and history show we will continue to struggle with.