Nothing exists in a vacuum, so when looking at the tragic shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida because he appeared ‘suspicious’ to a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain named George Zimmerman, it can not be viewed in isolation. It’s part of something that’s much larger and systemic.
Many of us don’t like to admit it, but the fact is, this country has a long and sordid history where those who appeared ‘different’, meaning not white and male, were often deemed suspicious resulting in deadly consequences. Call it a Culture of Suspicion if you will, but it one that’s helped shaped social and political policy and impacted damn near everything we’ve done throughout the years.
Black Codes, Vagrancy Laws, Jim Crow, Internment Camps, Salem Witch Craft Trials, Compulsory sterilization, Poll taxes, McCarthyism, Cointel-Pro, The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, The War on ‘Illegals’, The War on Women, these are just a few of the policies and measures that have emerged over the years out of this culture of suspicion…..And let’s be clear, so we’re all on the same page…The Culture of Suspicion is rooted in irrational FEAR and extreme ANGER.
It’s a FEAR and ANGER that dates back to the days of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock where those who weren’t Anglo-Saxon in this case Native Peoples were ‘suspected‘ of being ‘less than human’ and thus needed to be civilized, stripped of their land and exterminated. Can we say Manifest Destiny? That’s what that concept and ideology ultimately meant for Native Peoples..Can we say Genocide?
This FEAR and ANGER was pervasive among those who brought Africans to America in chains and enslaved us. Our culture was stripped, our language forbidden, our Africanisms stamped and literally beaten out of us.. Why? because slave owners had deep-seated fear of slaves revolting. All sorts of laws were put into place and all types of measures including divide and conquer tactics were employed to keep those who were then seen as beasts from rising up and doing what slaves like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey eventually did-kill or in the cases of Prosser and Vesey, plot to kill their white masters.
This FEAR of Black reprisals has resulted in nearly all traces of the over 250 of slave rebellions that went down in the American South being erased from our school history books.
What has remained are disturbing stories of Black men, being lynched and hung from trees in what was described by singer Billie Holiday as Strange Fruit. What’s remained are eerie stories of entire Black town like Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma being burned to the ground by angry white mobs because of FEAR and suspicion.of a Black man lusting after a white woman.
Sadly there’s a litany of stories about Black men being accused of looking at or lusting after a white women. This irrational Fear of a Black Dick and ‘suspicion’ gave rise of the Ku Klux Klan especially after the 1915 DW Griffith landmark film Birth of a Nation which had Black men lusting after white women as a main theme. You can see one of the more controversial scenes from that movie...HERE It also led to this country keeping anti-Miscegenation laws on the books up to 1967. Tragically it also led to countless young Black boys who having their genitals mutilated when those lynchings I mentioned earlier took place.
Again for many this legacy of FEAR and SUSPICION throughout our history is a painful pill to swallow. As a country we don’t wanna have an honest conversation of how pervasive it was and is and how it’s permeated our collective mind-set.. We don’t wanna talk about how this Culture of Suspicion been used toward various so-called minority groups in this country and the deep scars its left.
We don’t wanna talk about how we rounded up Japanese American citizens during World War II and put them in internment camps because we were suspicious of them..
We don’t wanna talk about harsh and often fatal treatment levied upon men and women we suspected of being gay. How many have been killed, beaten, put into special classes to ‘straighten’ them out..
We don’t wanna talk about the horrific legacy of Cointel-pro a government counter insurgency program headed up by FBI director J Edgar Hoover. We don’t wanna talk about how Hoover kept all sorts of Civil Rights, Black Power, Brown Power and Anti-War organization under a suspicious gaze and actively used every resource possible to destroy them. He went after everyone from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King to the Black Panthers and everyone in between. Irrational fear, deep-seated anger and suspicion that those demanding equal rights were somehow not ‘real’ American were part of the rationale behind Hoover and the FBI actions.
To see how deep this gets.. I urge folks to watch this documentary to that lays out this culture of suspicion and Cointel-Pro.. You can peep it HERE: How the FBI Sabotaged Black America
The Importance of Connecting the Dots
Again Trayvon Martin‘s tragic fate is not isolated. It has to be seen through this historical lens that reflects long-standing racial prejudices and attitudes and race based policy decisions in our society.
The unsavory actions of George Zimmerman coupled with the racial hostility he displayed in widely heard 9-11 call where he refers to Trayvon as a ‘F–king Coons and his paranoia (calling 9-11 over 40 times in the past year) are not out of the ordinary. He personifies the culture of suspicion.
The questionable actions and neglect displayed by the Sanford police department (not talking to key witnesses and keeping Trayvon’s body for 3 days without telling his parents) not only have the look of an outright cover up, but they too reflects this culture of suspicion… The message their actions convey is that; Trayvon must’ve been in the wrong. A young Black male wearing a hoody is always suspect. There’s no way Mr Zimmerman would’ve shot him for no reason.
In looking at Trayvon’s murder its also important to connect the dots to fear based incidents currently going on.. Look at the type of anger and hostility directed by those we are suspicious of…
For example,it was just last week during an NCAA basketball game we saw band members from University of Southern Mississippi resort to chanting ‘Where’s your Green card?‘ as rival basketball player Angel Rodriguez attempted to shoot free throws. The band members along with some fans ‘suspected’ that Rodriguez who is Puerto Rican wasn’t in this country legally. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, meaning they’re citizens.
Sadly similar scenarios played out in other schools around the country including last month in San Antonio, Texas where players from mostly white Alamo Heights started chanting ‘USA USA’ after they defeated their mostly Latino rivals from Edison. Again there was a suspicion that the players from Edison weren’t one of us (American) They must be illegall.
Some may be tempted to chalk these incidents up to sport fans being ignorant. And that may be true until we see this same type of attitude displayed by Presidential hopeful, long time Senator Rick S#######. He recently stood before a crowd and remarked, that before Puerto Rico can become state folks living there will have to learn to speak English. Again that culture of suspicion at play. He’s suspects Puerto Ricans aren’t really one of us.. On a side note as was pointed out in a recent Reuters article, There’s no constitutional requirement to have an official language nor for a territory to adapt English as an official language to become a state.
Sadly the culture of suspicionit doesn’t stop there. There’s been a rash of anti-immigrant bills being passed with the harshest in Arizona (SB 1070), Alabama (SB 56) and just the other day Mississippi passing (HB 56). All are born out FEAR and suspicion.
We’ve had people like Texas lawmaker Debbie Riddle coin the phrase ‘anchor’ babies and ‘terror’ babies when referring to the children of Mexican and Middle eastern immigrants and push to pass laws to stop them.. This sort of fear mongering has resulted in entire communities being profiled and suspect.
People like Riddle help foster a deadly climate of suspicion with deadly consequences. For example, we should never forget what took place 3 years ago in Arizona when Shawna Forde a self-appointed border patroller formed the group anti-immigrant organization Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.
In May of 2009 she and some accomplices suspecting that a family was living in a neighborhood illegally, raided the home and shot the 29-year-old father Raul and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia to death. The mother was there and left alive. Again the Culture of Suspicion resulting in vigilante justice.
The extreme measures taken on those ‘suspected’ of not being America are not just limited to hard-working, law-abiding immigrants. That anger and suspicion has been directed to President Barack Obama. We have a whole segment of society called birthers with people like businessman Donald Trump and Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio leading the charge. In a recent poll over 45% of folks in the south believed he was a Muslim and over 25% don’t believe he was born here in the US..
The suspicions of the birthers is unprecedented. First, they demanded the president show his birth certificate. After he did that they demanded he show a long form certificate. After he did that, they accused the documents of being forged and wanted original draft cards. In fact as we speak Arpaio is launching yet another investigation into the president. Can you say Culture of Suspicion gone wild?
It doesn’t help that President Obama has contributed or reacted to this climate of suspicion, by deporting over one million people and increased surveillance in American Muslim communities..His policies dovetail with the policies of many police departments that have also heightened this culture of suspicion.
It was just 3 or 4 weeks ago that a ‘suspicious’ looking Ramarley Graham was standing outside his home in the Bronx when he saw police officers roll by. He walked into his home only to be followed by police who ‘suspected’ he had a gun.. Police busted into his house and shot Graham in his bathroom in front of his grandmother and a 6 year old.. No gun or weapon was ever found..
Graham was one of over a whooping 680 thousand New Yorkers who police stopped and frisked last year in their attempts to find ‘illegal’ handguns.. Over 80% of those stopped and frisked were Black or Brown men.. less than a 1% of those stops have resulted in any weapons being found. This policy has led to racial profiling and Black and Brown men being seen as suspects before being seen as productive citizens in their community.
The case of Pittsburgh, PA 17-year-old honor student Jordan Miles being stop frisked and beaten beyond recognition with his dreadlocks torn out his head is another example of what happens under this culture of suspicion..
Ironically in both the Jordan and Graham cases the police accused both men of fleeing when in truth, knowing the history of such encounters they probably developed a healthy suspicion of police who are no longer seen as friendly public servant there to protect and serve, but a vicious gang with a badges and license to kill.
There are too many cases to recount.. but the results are damn near always the same death, scarred communities and a legacy of deep mistrust.. Trayvon Martin is the latest casualty in this long line of tragic mishaps.
What if the Shooter was Black and the Victim White?
There are many who have rhetorically asked this question. It’s done not so much to plant seeds of racial hatred and be divisive but to point out the inconsistencies and double standards that exist within our justice system. Its way for us to look at situations and hopefully be moved to change them.
One glaring example of a Black man protecting his family and shooting a white youth involves took place a few years ago in Long island New York. In August 2006, John White confronted 17-year-old white teenager named Daniel Cicciaro who had been threatening White’s son. Cicciaro showed up with a group of his friends to get at White’s son. Fearing for his safety White shot the teen who was on his property. He was convicted and sent to jail. You can and should read about that case HERE.
At the time of White’s sentencing there were many who compared his situation with that of a White man out of Texas, named Joe Horn who shot two Black men on his property who he shot and killed after disobeying police orders. Like Zimmerman, Horn wasn’t directly threatned but he went ‘hunting’ for the people he eventually shot.. You can read about that case HERE and HERE.
This should come as no surprise to anyone that we have this type of double standard. The question and challenge before us all, is how will we fix a broken, racially biased justice system? Do we have to vote in new judges, new DAs and new prosecutors? Do we have to change the entire way we do business in the justice arena?
There are no easy answers and ultimately we are going to have to change people’s hearts and minds. Say what you will, but what fueled these confrontations and uneven results was racism and the suspicion that those who have darker skin are ssuspect..
The Zimmerman Is Hispanic Not White Argument
In recent days we’ve seen many in the media play this card and play it hard.. There’s a couple of things going on here that we should all think about.
First, is by playing up the fact that Zimmerman is half Hispanic suggests that he at one point or the other has been subjected to the suspicious FEAR laden gaze of society and hence he’d be a bit more sensitive and perhaps a bit more insightful when confronting folks, in particular Black folks. The implied thought is that Zimmerman, the half Hispanic would know what Black or Brown man to confront and not to confront better than the average white person..That’s utter nonsense so lets put that to rest..
Zimmerman was a racist who had a clear disdain for young Black males. He was as FEARFUL as any of the white person who has held similar attitudes. In short, what does Zimmerman being Hispanic have to do with anything? He drank the kool aid of white supremacy. His Hispanic background didn’t make him immune, the same way it doesn’t immune self-hating Black folks who buy into the same flawed belief systems where even with Black skin and having faced discrimination themselves, will see a young Black male with a hoodie and think the worse and become suspicious. Some of those FEARFUL Negros once they get a position of power or get to wear a gun and badge act out fearfully and suspiciously with the same deadly consequences.. So Zimmerman being Latino means nothing..
The other thing at play here is by the media highlighting Zimmerman’s ethnicity, Black folks are supposed to suddenly unite and start bombing on Latinos. We’re supposed to suddenly be upset with our Mexican, El Salvadorian or Puerto Rican neighbors? Was Zimmerman acting on their behalf and carrying out their agenda? I think not..
If they’re gonna play the ethnic card with Zimmerman all of us should be asking is Zimmerman repping for a large Latino body of people who are in the same struggles and fighting against an oppressive system. Is he part of an organizations like La Raza, MeCHA , NDLON, Puente, and in are they vouching for him? Would he have been suspicious of one the courageous Dreamers, undocumented youth who actually Marched through Florida a year or so ago pushing for passage of the Dream Act? Has Zimmerman been out there protesting all the anti-immigrant laws popping up all over the country or was he the type to support them, suspicious off other Latinos confronting them asking if they’re criminals or here ‘legally’?
Again either your working to free people from oppression or your working for the system, helping keep people disenfranchised and marginalized. Don’t buy into divide and conquer tactics. Connecting the dots, uniting marginalized communities and addressing institutionalized oppression is not in the best interest of those in power.
I’m not sure what Zimmerman represents and who he rolls with, but his actions deserved to be punished. And while in many places there are Black and Brown tensions which should be addressed the shooting of Trayvon Martin is not the jump off into further divisions. Whats at stake here is the death of an innocent 17 year old coming home in the rain wearing a hoodie and carry a package of skiddles..He was confronted by large, overzealous, suspicious wanna be cop who killed him.. We must resist the attempts to keep this tragedy isolated from these larger issues and histories at hand..We must seek justice and seek it in such a way that it puts a major dent in some of overarching problems and prejudices impacting us all.