Every parent’s worst nightmare is the death of a child by senseless violent gun crime. And so on February 26, 2013, the 1st anniversary of the death and killing of Trayvon Martin, my heart goes out to Sybrina Fulton and Tracey Martin, parents of Trayvon and to all the other parents who have lost their children to violent and senseless gun violence. Yet, the death of Trayvon Martin and the way it occurred could happen to any black male in America due to racial profiling.
One year ago, George Zimmerman, while on community watch patrol spotted Trayvon and presumably sensed that he was acting suspicious while en route to the home of his father’s fiancé. His suspicious actions was a young black male walking in a gated community wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and a bottle of Ice Tea. For his actions, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
Apparently, some of the police on duty on the night of Trayvon Martin’s death may have engaged in the their own racial profiling as they released George Zimmerman based on his version of events. It was not until the outpouring of support for Trayvon Martin that police arrested and brought George Zimmerman to stand trial. A trial is set for June 10 and barring unforeseen circumstances, Zimmerman will appear before a jury and be judged for his actions.
Trayvon Martin could be any black male in America today. Recently, renowned actor Forest Whitaker was stopped by a store clerk and presumed to have stolen something from a store. He had taken nothing. But his actions as a black man entering a store and leaving shortly thereafter aroused suspicions on the part of the employee. If under different circumstances or similar to those of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, Forest Whitaker could have met a George Zimmerman.
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor rebuked a federal prosecutor for his questions during a trial which amounted to the racial profiling of blacks and Hispanics gathered together in a hotel room. During the trial, the prosecutor asked the defendant and argued to the jury that blacks and Hispanics in a hotel room with money amounted to a drug deal. Sam Ponder, the assistant U.S. attorney said “common sense” should tell jurors why the men were in the hotel room. “You’ve got African Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, ‘This is a drug deal?'” the prosecutor said. Justice Sotomayor stated in a written statement after the court refused to hear the appeal that the prosecutor tried to “substitute racial stereotype for evidence and racial prejudice for reason.”
In the case of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman substituted his own racial prejudice and racial stereotype in reasoning that Trayvon Martin was acting suspiciously which led him to follow and ultimately shoot Martin. Regardless of whether “Stand your Ground” legally applies as a defense, there would be no trial or killing without the intervening racial profiling.
It does not matter whether you are Trayvon Martin, Forest Whitaker or an unknown, unnamed black man in America, the same fate as that of Trayvon could potentially occur, due to racial profiling. Targeting African American males for suspicion of crimes by law enforcement and “wanna be” law enforcement officers such as Zimmerman based on the color of their skin exists whether one lives in Los Angeles, New York city, Washington, DC or Stanford, Florida. And on February 26, 2012, it caused the death of Trayvon Martin.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. She also regularly contributes articles to the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center blog. She has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio discussing headline legal news, politics and voting rights. Her works have also appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Afro American, Washington Post, and Washington Times. Her written commentary has been featured on CNN and in NPR online. She is a native of Baltimore, MD residing in Washington, DC.