Kadner: Trayvon Martin: Death by intolerance
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2013 7:34PM
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the White House, Friday, July 19, 2013, in Washington, about the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Updated: August 22, 2013 6:37AM
It was a young black reporter for this newspaper who opened my eyes to the way his community views law enforcement.
While riding with his father in a car one day, a Chicago police car pulled them over.
His father, a middle-aged man with no previous criminal history, was ordered to get out of the car. As his hands were placed on the hood of the vehicle, he was patted down.
“He turned his head and looked at me,” the son recalled. “And tears began to run down his face. He was so ashamed that he was being humiliated like that in front of his son. I turned away. I couldn’t look at him, I will never forget the look of hurt on his face.”
The father had done nothing wrong, the son said. Apparently, the police had gotten a report of some crime in the area and either their car fit the description or his father did.
“We’ll never know,” my colleague said. “That’s just the way life is if you’re black in this country. Ask any black person, and they will tell you a similar story, or worse.”
I know there are white readers who will say they have similar stories about themselves or their friends being accosted in black communities.
But the story told to me by my colleague, around the time of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal for murder, was informative. It explained why many blacks view law enforcement differently than the rest of us.
It might explain why a young black man, having visited a convenience store, might become upset if someone stopped him in the street later and asked what he was doing in the neighborhood.
President Barack Obama on Friday spoke about a similar experiences he had as a young black man walking through a store and being followed.
I have spent a good part of my career covering “racial incidents.”
As a cub reporter, I wrote about a neo-Nazi Party located near Chicago’s Marquette Park, saw whites throw bottles and bricks at blacks marching for open housing and wrote more than a few stories about school integration and black homeowners being harassed because they were the first to move into a white neighborhood.
Each time I heard from white citizens who had stories about how their old neighborhoods were destroyed when blacks moved in — stories about white families that tried to hold on as neighborhoods were changing, who tried to get along with their new neighbors and were ultimately victimized by blacks.
And, you know what, more than 30 years later I hear people repeat those stories.
Often, at some point in these tales, these white people tell me they don’t understand why blacks can’t get on with their lives and forget the past. They don’t seem to notice that the past haunts them as well.
The truth is that blacks are more often the victims of black crime than whites. For every Trayvon Martin, there are hundreds, thousands, of young black men preyed upon by black street gangs, drug dealers and drug addicts.
To those in the white community, the outrage over those deaths never seems to generate the sort of outrage in the black community as that involving a white man accused of shooting a black man.
Then again, the amount of publicity and anger in the white community over the death of a white child, or the shootings of white children in a schoolhouse, seems overblown when compared to the senseless killings of hundreds of black children each year.
All of this reminds me of conversations I’ve had with people from the Middle East or Eastern Europe about bitter hatred between people of different religions and ethnic groups.
“You don’t understand,” is the standard response I get when I suggest that such hatred and feuding seem counterproductive. That statement is always followed by a laundry list of wrongs, perceived and real, done to a certain people over hundreds of years.
There is good reason to hate. Evidence to support distrust. These are bad people.
There is no room for understanding, compromise or forgiveness. In most of these conversations, a wise person doesn’t even interrupt the flow of invective.
Listening to people debate the Trayvon Martin case, I am hard-pressed to distinguish a difference between those discussions and the ones with people from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The facts of the incident don’t seem to matter as much as the perceptions people bring with them. Based on personal experience, they know what happened.
All I know for sure is that a man carrying a gun approached an unarmed Martin, and Martin ended up dead. It seems simple enough to reach a conclusion from that.
When private citizens carry guns for self-protection, someone may end up bleeding to death. That’s not a statement in support of banning guns, just a simple fact.
In the uproar over racial injustice and the white backlash, few people want to consider that.
I’m not surprised. When it comes to discussing racism in this country, all evidence is ignored. History is distorted. Solutions are ignored.
It’s about what we know personally, our history, the experiences of our families, friends and neighbors. “Those people” are wrong. “We” are right.
In the history of the world, I know of no civilization that has ever found a way of resolving such differences.
Trayvon Martin’s death, in the end, can be attributed to that as much as anything else.
Tomorrow, it may be another child who dies, white or black, a stranger or your child.
No autopsy report will ever contain the words, “Death caused by historical differences.”
But it is a plague on humanity.