March 28, 2012

The Travesty of Trayvon

Bobby Rush, representing
Here we go again.

Once again, the evening news -- and talk radio -- and the chatter at the office water cooler -- have been hijacked by a story of evil Whitey's hatred of the noble black man. This time it's George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin. And frankly I'm getting tired of it all, because Zimmerman isn't just being blamed for a brutal murder. Instead, he has become an object of scorn for every black family who ever lost a child in brutal street violence.

President Obama tells us that if he had a son, said child might look like Trayvon. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and every other activist suddenly appear at huge hate-filled rallies, as if they already had their bags packed. Then just today, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush was ejected from the House chamber for wearing a hoodie in honor of Trayvon.

Good grief, the investigation has barely begun. Nobody knows the full story. Yet already, the lynch mobs stand prepared with their rope. Trayvon's mother quickly trademarked his name, eager to make a buck over any book or movie that might honor his memory. Hate begets hate, crime begets crime, and nothing ever changes. No one can truly claim the moral highground.

I've always found it interesting that the propaganda peddlers never quite know what to make of multi-ethnic people. President Obama is half-Caucasian,  but for political purposes we continue to exalt him as the first "black" president. Zimmerman is half-Hispanic, and he even looks like it. In any other context, he might be pitied as an oppressed minority. But in this situation he's as white as snow, and suddenly guilty for every for every violent racist act since the slave trade.

How convenient.

As if on cue, for the umpteenth time, the TV news shows remind us that young black men are "disproportionately" represented in our nation's prisons. But I still don't understand; does it mean they didn't do it? Or that they shouldn't be punished? Or that the police should overlook their offenses, so as to preserve their self-esteem? What would they suggest as the "proper" ratio? 

I just don't get it.

Is it possible that some of those prisoners are truly innocent? Of course it is. But the more I look into the details of these stories in the news, many of these (potentially) innocent citizens:

Were found at the scene of the crime; and/or

Already had a well-known record for making trouble in the neighborhood; and/or

Hung out with the wrong crowd late at night, unsupervised by their parents; and/or

Eluded, harrassed, or assaulted the local police; and/or

Regularly skipped school to roll with the posse.

Maybe they're truly innocent of the crime for which they're serving time. I don't know. But at some point in their youth they made the first of a long succession of (voluntary!) bad choices, which in time escalated into a felony conviction. Their parents didn't hold them accountable, or their schoolteachers let them slide on bad behavior in fear of a racist accusation. They grew up with an attitude of entitlement, and a chip on their shoulder. It was only a matter of time until someone knocked it off.

I know. I grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a distant black father, in a neighborhood surrounded by the 18th Street gang (their tag was Spanish word Diesiocho), and the Crips. Drugs and booze flowed freely at my schools, unchecked. Many of my friends made momentous decisions in elementary or middle school, which caused their lives to take strange turns: crime, truancy, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, illiteracy. I had a classmate who died of AIDS at age 21, before anyone knew what AIDS was, the natural consequence of his own freewill choices.

But what are we to think, when a black kid assaults a white kid? We're supposed to wait for the investigation to conclude before we jump to conclusions and call it a hate crime. But when a white policeman confronts a black resident sneaking into a house through a window? Within hours, before the ink is dry on the police report, our president goes on nationwide TV to blame the cops for acting "stupidly." One way or another, no matter the situation, we always find a way to reassure the black man that he did nothing wrong.

You're poor? Blame Whitey. You can't read? Blame Whitey. You can't get a job, or health care, or a decent place to live? Whitey. You committed a crime? Can't possibly be your fault. Tell the white guy he's guilty, and it's his responsibility to fix it. Puhleeeeeze.
Before you point to Whitey as the cause of troubles in black society, I suggest you look a little closer to home. Not every juvenile shoplifter ends up shooting a cop; but behind every 30 year-old cop killer, there was a 12 year-old kid who swiped a pack of gum from the corner market. You show me a rapist serving life at Folsom State Prison, and I will show you a boy whose father never taught him to respect women. You might think marijuana is harmless, but isn’t that how every heroin or crack addict got started?

Just imagine: If only they had turned right at age twelve, instead of left; or if their parents required them to be home in time for dinner; or if their teachers had required them to turn in their homework, they might be in college today. They might have a good job and a family. They might have a nice home in a good neighborhood. They might be a part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

If you don’t teach these lessons to your children, you don’t get to blame someone else if they never learn. It all begins with a choice.

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