Commentary: After the Arrest, Trayvon’s Death Should Spark a National Discussion

Commentary: After the Arrest, Trayvon’s Death Should Spark a National Discussion

The death of Trayvon Martin should lead to a national discussion on race in the United States.

Published April 13, 2012

   (Photo: Gary Green/The Orlando Sentinel-Pool/Getty Images)

The killer of Trayvon Martin has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. With that arrest, the objective of so many protest rallies and hoodie marches has been seemingly fulfilled. George Zimmerman is now in the custody of the authorities in Florida. So, in the minds of some, mission accomplished.

And yet, there is so much that is lingering in the horrific case of Trayvon Martin. If nothing else, the death of the unarmed Black teenager should spark a national discussion about the atrocious challenges that confront young men of color on a daily basis. It should prompt a national dialogue about the embarrassment, humiliation and even violence that so many Black and brown men face every day of their lives in doing nothing more than walking along streets or driving their cars.

There is a need for a public conversation to revisit the mischief that has accompanied not just the death of Trayvon Martin, but by the incessant stop-and-frisk practices by police officers in many cities and by the racial profiling that has become a fact of life for so many young — and not-so-young — men of color.

To add to that, there is now the ghastly Florida "Stand Your Ground" Law, a measure that has been duplicated in nearly two dozen states. It serves as little more than a sanctioning of vigilante law and a license for people to kill based on their own perception of being in danger.

Furthermore, there is a need for a national discussion that will somehow lead to the day when the nation starts seeing Black youth as people with dreams and promise, worthy of investment and encouragement, rather than as lawless marauders.

Despite the years of civil rights legislation, the stripping away of housing discrimination practices, the expansion of the Black middle class and even the presence of an African-American president of the Unites States, Americans are as far apart as ever when it comes to perceptions regarding race and ethnicity.

The Trayvon Martin case is the latest – but by no means the only – example of how Americans simply perceive race differently. African-Americans overwhelmingly see the criminal justice system as working against them while white Americans are far more divided about the matter.

A recent survey indicated that about half of white Americans believe that Black and Latino citizens are not treated fairly by the criminal justice system. More than 80 percent of Black respondents hold that view. The Washington Post/ABC News poll indicated that eight out of 10 Black respondents say that the killing of Trayvon Martin was not justified, compared with fewer than four in 10 white respondents who held that view.

What that points to is a unmistakable divide in our country on virtually everything that involves race and ethnicity. It permeates the politics of the country; it seeps into the presidential campaign; and it continues to affect how Americans see each other – and the value they place on the lives of young men like Trayvon Martin.

The most productive and rewarding legacy that could possibly come from the tragedy of the death of this promising 17-year-old man would be for the nation to engage in a dialogue that would result in other people seeing young men like him as gifted, promising parts of the fabric of this country’s incredible potential.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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