By Alan Bean
The reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict shows that most white Americans are down with racial profiling.
The upshot of this verdict is that white folks can stalk and confront young black males without justification and shoot them dead if they choose to defend themselves. This might not be laudable behavior; in fact, it might be downright tacky. But it isn’t illegal.
Technically, the reverse is true: young black males can stalk and confront white folks and shoot them dead if they resist . . . but, as a practical matter, stand-your-ground logic only works for real Americans.
African Americans understand this stuff; but most White Americans don’t. If you’re Black, that’s scary.
Just when you start feeling like an American citizen in good standing, another young black man is shot dead by the police, or by an armed vigilante like George Zimmerman, and all the angst comes flooding back.
You don’t have to be Black to get this.
“You can stand your ground if you’re white,” says David Simon, creator of The Wire, “and you can use a gun to do it. But if you stand your ground with your fists and you’re black, you’re dead.” Simon is so broken up by the Zimmerman verdict he is ashamed to be an American.
I got a call from a white guy in Chicago this morning who wanted to take issue with my published opinions. His basic argument was that White people have the right to profile “thugs” like Trayvon Martin because black people on the squalid side of the Windy City have a penchant for gun violence. If a few innocent Black kids get killed as a consequence, that’s just too bad.
This kind of reasoning underlies most pro-Zimmerman commentary.
Zimmerman is dangerous precisely because his actions were driven by this logic. Would he have seen a similarly clad White or Chinese kid as suspicious or a threat to public safety? No, his supporters say, but so what. Everyone knows the murder rate is sky-high in black neighborhoods.
Liberals generally ignore this argument for racial profiling, but that needs to change.
It’s not okay to proposition a white woman on the street because thousands of white women work as prostitutes, poll dancers, or porn queens.
You can’t call the cops on the Latino gentleman mowing the lawn across the street because there are a lot of undocumented people in the lawn care industry.
You can’t call a White Southerner a redneck, racist cracker because “everybody knows Southern Whites keep a white sheet hidden in the closet.” I was interviewed last night by a Black talk show host who sincerely believes that all White people, world wide, are consciously involved in a plot to exploit and undermine Black people. I guess that’s just the way us White folks are. It’s genetic, I suppose; we can’t help ourselves.
Profiling places entire populations at risk and deprives millions of Americans of their most fundamental civil rights.
That’s why millions of Black fathers have to take their sons aside as they approach adolescence for what is called “the talk”.
David Person, the USA columnist who interviews me about racial justice issues every Thursday afternoon on WEUP radio in Huntsville AL, wonders if “the talk” is sufficient in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. “What do black parents tell their sons now,” Person asks.
Writing in the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart puts it like this:
Because of assumptions and suspicions, black kids have to be “perfect” in how they dress and how they comport themselves in public. But the Zimmerman acquittal now makes it clear that justice for an innocent black child killed requires proof that he lived his life beyond reproach at all times.
What this means is that black adolescents cannot afford to be normal American teenagers. They cannot experiment with pot. They cannot fight in any way ever, even if it means protecting themselves from a stranger. They cannot take sophomoric pictures with middle fingers, bare chests or in silly gear. They can’t have improper conversations on social media. They can’t wear anything society views as menacing. And growing up, they can never ever make bad choices or mistakes — the types that teach life lessons, foster humility and build character.
As we’ve seen with the Zimmerman defense, any of those things can be used to put black children on trial for their own death. Never mind that they were profiled as “up to no good” or were pursued and confronted by an unidentified stranger. In the eyes of the defense, those children never have the emotions, reactions or fears of children. They are presumed guilty the moment they leave the safe confines of home.
Yet we need to be mindful of something else. That presumption of guilt doesn’t go away with the change of voice or the clearing of skin. It is never outgrown. And as a result of the Zimmerman verdict, black parents are holding their boys closer and tighter, no matter their age. “Be careful out there. Watch as well as pray,” my 71-year-old mother wrote me in a text message Sunday evening. “I pray for your safety everyday. Love you. Mom.”
Racial profiling is deadly. It is inexcusable. It needs to stop.