OPINION: What Has America Really Learned A Decade After Trayvon Martin’s Killing?

Black people still continue to experience the trauma of overpolicing and the nation still makes scant effort to change anything. So what will it take?

The 10-year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin on Saturday (Feb. 26), is a sobering reminder that little has changed. The brutal overpolicing of Black people continues, with the recent murder of Amir Locke via a botched no-knock raid, a racist policy also weaponized to kill Breonna Taylor.

Kaia Rolle, a Black child who was arrested and handcuffed in her Florida school at the age of six, continues to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But, this is nothing new. American policing has been a major source of anti-Black racial violence since its inception with historical roots in slave patrols.

There is no question that Black people have been psychologically impacted by the unrelenting racial trauma of widely televised police brutality over the past 10 years and long before that. The question is: What has the impact been on white people, specifically white people in positions of power? And what are they doing to create true change?

It is documented that Black individuals are more likely than their white counterparts to experience adverse mental health effects from highly publicized police killings of Black people. White America has a long history of being desensitized to the plight of Black people. It was not so long ago when white crowds held festive gatherings to celebrate the public torture and lynching of Black Americans, and made Black lynchings into souvenir postcards.

For the white Americans not directly involved or witnessing racial violence, one has to wonder: how many of them turned a blind eye to white supremacy or simply felt that racism against Black Americans was not real? How many still do?`

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Recent polls revealed that nearly half of white Americans believe that Black and white people are treated equally by the police and that police shootings of Black people are receiving too much attention. The police and vigilante killings of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans led to a ripple effect of institutional apologies and promises.

Pledges to combat racism led to organizational task forces of questionable output, often with the same people in charge who had previously promoted the racist status quo. Anti-racism workshops were held, conversations about race were mediated. Many rushed to pay lip service to fighting racism, but I am still waiting for the action to accompany it.

“No-knock” raids remain unbanned in the majority of states. Kaia Rolle’s family fought to raise the minimum age of arrest in Florida, but children as young as 8 years old can still be lawfully arrested by police, and many states still have no minimum age for arrest.

White people continue to hold the majority of positions of power in workplaces and academic institutions, with major barriers existing for Black people seeking promotion and leadership. Black people are more likely to prefer remote work as a reprieve from everyday workplace racism. Despite more than 50 years passing since the Civil Rights Act, Black people are still paid less than their white counterparts with the same qualifications.

True progress is not made in implicit bias workshops or lectures about racism in police shootings. True progress is made when racist laws and policies are eradicated and power is redistributed equitably and justly. True progress against racism is not made in abstract conversations about race. It is made when a white colleague is held accountable for racist behavior at work.

True progress does not come in self-proclamations of allyship, it comes when white people in power ensure that all of their colleagues receive equal wages, and better yet, ensure that the salaries of Black versus white employees are transparent and trackable to ensure that the racial wealth gap is not perpetuated.

While I am glad that conversations are being held about racism in professional and academic spaces, it is time to move towards real action. Words are powerful, but they should be accompanied by accountability and action. Otherwise, Trayvon’s murder has taught America nothing.

If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.

-Malcolm X


Dr. Amanda Calhoun is an adult/child psychiatry resident at Yale Child Study Center/Yale School of Medicine. She is also a public voices fellow of the Op-Ed Project at Yale University.

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