I was racially profiled in college once. For those of you don’t know, that race is…. Uh, I guess “caucasian?” I belong to the Dutch race. Netherlandic, I suppose? I don’t know–I’m a white guy. And I went to a college with a whole bunch of other white people–Many of them also Dutch, or “Netherlandic Americans” as we like to be called. I was minding my own business outside of one of the dorms, and a Campus Security person walked up shining a flashlight (the closest thing our Campus Security had to any sort of weapon) my way. I think that when I saw the beam, I jokingly hid behind a tree trunk, employing my finely honed skills as a Dutch Ninja–Easily the deadliest (and most thrifty) of all ninjas. The next thing I knew, I was being detained. I was told that I “fit the description” of a person who just attempted some sort of sexual assault on Campus. That description? A white male wearing jeans and a T-shirt….
They decided to attempt a line-up, only like a really screwed up line-up with me as the only person being ID’ed–I think they got confused. I would stand outside the glass door of the dorm lobby and the girl (accompanied by a bunch of other girls in order to protect the identity of the accuser–sort of the exact reverse of an actual police line-up) would come out and let security people know if I was the guy. We laughed as we walked over to her dorm at the insanity of it all…. I stopped laughing when I entertained this one thought: What if this girl looks at me and says, “THAT’S HIM!!” Then I got nervous. As I stood there outside the lobby awaiting my fate, a mass of college girls came out into the lobby. I can’t be sure, but I think the one who was ID’ing me was the one in the middle–The one who was crying with six different girls comforting her as she shook her head letting the security guy know he could holster his flashlight. I felt very naked, standing there…. I think I might have waved a “Hi, I’m not a rapist” sort of wave.
I found out later that the “attempted sexual assault” this girl experienced was actually just a guy walking out of the bushes as she was walking by herself. He never even touched her. It was probably just some poor guy taking a shortcut as he walked and he came out next to a high-strung co-ed who was feeling a little nervous and vulnerable and afraid and screamed and ran off.
I haven’t thought of this story in a while, but I was reminded of it recently after the killing of Trayvon Martin. I posted something on my facebook page right after I heard the story. At that point, it sounded like just another tragic killing: Black kid walking in a white neighborhood gets gunned down for “looking suspicious” (read: “black”) sort of thing–Tragic, but there are stupid people everywhere. There had been some break-ins in that neighborhood, and maybe this Zimmerman guy was nervous and afraid when he saw this out-of-place black man walking through his neighborhood, just like the sexual assault girl was feeling at my college (thank goodness SHE didn’t have a gun). However, over the past couple days, the nation’s reaction to this tragic story has taken a far more shameful turn.
I think that many people were uncomfortable with the story as they first heard it, because the awful injustice of it all sounded too clear-cut: “Wait, you’re telling me that an armed, white “Neighborhood Watch” guy called in a 911 call because he saw a black kid walking down the road with a hoodie on? He was following this kid as he walked, and when the kid started running (whoever ran first–we don’t know) he chased after him even though the 911 operator told him not to? Then when this unarmed kid, who was chased and tackled by someone he didn’t know, fought back ON HIS BACK, he was shot in the chest as he cried out for help? AND THEN THE GUY WHO SHOT HIM WASN’T EVEN ARRESTED!?!?!” I think that people were actually relieved when they heard that George Zimmerman’s head was bleeding, like that was proof that this was actually a case of self defense. But I have a question: Since when does “self defense” look like a man with a gun (who witnessed no one committing a crime of any sort) running after an unarmed kid and shooting him in the stomach? I don’t care what state you’re in. This is murder.
“Wait!” people cried. “It turns out George Zimmerman wasn’t REALLY white! His dad was white and his mom was Peruvian. That makes him sort of Hispanic.” As if Hispanic people are incapable of racial profiling because they are a minority as well… And then, I think an even more dubious part of white America let out another sigh of relief when they found out that Trayvon had been suspended from school. Then, after it was leaked that his suspension was because they had found trace amounts of marijuana in a baggie in his book bag, people believed the shooting was even something close to justified. Like, “See? He wasn’t such a good kid after all.” This sort of sentiment is portrayed in the comment of a New Orleans police officer who wrote “Act like a thug, die like one!” on a thread discussing the Trayvon Martin killing. It’s shown in the picture of a black kid with no shirt on, saggin’ pants, flipping off the camera that people said was a picture of Trayvon. Of course it wasn’t, but when people saw the picture, it made the bitter pill that is this kid’s death a little easier to swallow. Here’s the thing: I don’t care if this kid smoked the whole baggie of pot, sagged his pants below his underwear, and had a 24 karat grill in his mouth–this kid got shot and killed on his back with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Tea in his pocket! If you are defending his killing there is something very VERY wrong with you.
President Obama, while talking about Trayvon, said the words “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” And that’s just it. When you think about this in a way that says “What if this were my kid? things start to change. What if this were my brother? Or my friend. What if this were me? What if I had decided to run when that campus security guard started coming toward me? What if, instead of a flashlight, he had been carrying a gun? What if, when he caught up to me, I fought back and got in a couple of good licks? Would that make it alright for that security guard to put a bullet though my chest? What if I was wearing a hoodie? I’ve smoked pot before–would that fact make my death more palatable? Well, I AM TRAYVON MARTIN. And if there can be no justice in this case because of stupid laws or stupid detectives, the least you can do is not try to justify my murder just to make yourself feel better.