It’s been more than a week since the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman found him not guilty of killing black unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Like many Americans, I am still feeling deep sadness for Trayvon’s parents and all parents of African-American boys. I am mourning for my country.
Again, a single event divides America across racial lines, calling into sharp focus the extent to which too many of us interpret reality and reach conclusions through the seemingly inescapable lens of race.
Many words have been written and spoken about the tragic meeting of Trayvon and George -- the loss of reason and humanity that occurred when fear morphed into violence.
We know this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s America’s most horrific reality show. During the trial, The Root published a haunting slide show of 20 unarmed black men who’ve been killed by “authorities.” The message: there is nothing new here.
I don’t want to live in a world where black boys are suspect.
I want to live in a country where every child is seen as inherently good and worthy, a bundle of human potential to achieve greatness as a citizen, artist, “job creator” or a parent.
I don’t want to live in a world where people are prejudged based on the color or their skin.
I want to live in a country where freedom of movement and safety are a basic human right, not just a privilege afforded those of a certain race, gender, economic class, etc.
I saw the film “Fruitvale Station” this past weekend. It’s based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American father killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer. The cop claimed he reached for his taser but accidentally fired his gun.
It was painful watching a story unfold when I already knew how it would end. The film didn’t paint Oscar as a saint. He did time in prison and had a short temper. But he also was portrayed as a good friend, father and son, a loving, affectionate young man who respected his elders and tried to support his family while resisting the underground economy of crime. The Sundance Festival-winning film humanized Oscar and all of the people in his life who mourn his death.
Filmmaker Ryan Coogler said, “This film was about human beings and how we treat each other; how we treat the people that we love the most and how we treat the people that we don’t know.”
That's exactly what I am thinking about in light of the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, told Nancy Grace, “When I think about his smile, when I think about how playful he was, when I think about how he loved to kiss us…he loved to hug. When I think about those things, I smile.”
What will each of us do to make sure we don’t just watch racism unfold to its inevitable conclusion, like frozen bystanders or moviegoers? What will you do to help create a world that treats black boys as beloved children; black teenagers as full of promise, and black men as full and equal citizens?
This is a question not only for us as human beings and citizens, but as journalists.
Will you speak out if someone in your newsroom makes a racist comment? Will you challenge the criminalization of black men in your evening newscast? Will you give voice to the experience of African-Americans in your community by interviewing black experts (including regular folks) about a range of concerns? During editorial meetings, will you suggest stories about racial justice instead of expecting reporters of color to pitch those ideas? Will you actively push your editors and managers to hire more journalists of color? Will you cover the efforts in your own community to address racism, bridge racial gaps, foster interracial peace? What will you do to guarantee that our country lives up to its promise of equality and that your news organization lives up to its commitment to serve the public in all of its diversity.
The Foundation for Child Development has released a report showing the extent to which nearly every measure of child well-being in this country is racially skewed. The report concludes, “Disturbingly high numbers of children are growing up poor and near-poor…the fact that these circumstances continue to disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic children [is] an affront to this nation. Absent a serious national dialogue about how best to confront these inequities and a commitment to making the essential investments to address them, we are seriously jeopardizing the future of our children and the security and well-being of the nation.”
We are all on trial. How will you plead?