News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 1, 2012

FLASHPOINT: Issue surrounding Florida shooting fueled by race

The Tribune-Star

---- — I am writing as a mother and as president of the Terre Haute branch of the NAACP because there may be some who wonder why the shooting of Trayvon Martin has created such an uproar: “What exactly is the issue?”

In my opinion, the issue is truly race-based. I am keenly aware that many are not accustomed to acknowledging that racism still exists in America because they are not affected by racism. The word makes them uncomfortable, especially when minorities and others concerned for their fellow Americans raise their voices in opposition to it.

The issue is the lack of concern and value for the lives of young black and brown men. Had Trayvon been white, and Zimmerman been Hispanic, Asian, Indian, black, even white, he would be in jail. However, Martin was young and black, so instead of this being about murder, the issue became what the young man did wrong.

The immediate thoughts crossing the minds of some were: “What was he doing in that neighborhood?” “What kind of mischief was he a part of in the rest of his life?” “Why did he not respond?” “Why did he run?” “Why did he try to fight back?” Be mindful that this young man was walking in the rain, before you question his hoodie. Consider that he was on the phone with his girlfriend, before you assume he did the attacking.

Had Trayvon been white and Zimmerman black, he would be reading this from a local jail cell, regardless of any laws that would seemingly give him the right to shoot because he felt threatened. Be clear that thousands of people, myself included, are not fighting the Florida law — which I understand does not even absolve Zimmerman from this crime. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stated: “This law does not apply to this particular circumstance. … Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.” Protesters, like me, are objecting to the indifference that allows a murderer to walk free as I write.

As a parent, what would your instructions have been with regard to an armed stranger running toward you with a weapon? I have told my children to keep a healthy distance from people who seem to be out of control — especially those with guns but no police uniforms. I doubt many parents would disagree.

Unfortunately, young black and brown men don’t have to be drug dealers, bullies or thugs when they are gunned down; some automatically work to justify and blame them for their own deaths — seemingly because they are young men of color. That is racist, whether we like it or not. My African American sons are at risk every time they walk alone. When they hang out with their black friends, they are suspect — regardless of the clean lives they lead. God forbid they be in a car alone at night.

Trayvon Martin’s life mattered, as did those of thousands of young black and brown men gunned down, run over, beat down and hanged simply because of someone’s irrational fear of men of color. Even in 2012, years after the civil rights movement, my sons and nephews are unnecessarily targets.

At the heart of the matter, though the “stand your ground” law may need revisions, it is important that we take a stand to protect the lives of minority young men from fearful people who have judged them based on the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character.

It has taken the actions of millions to help get the wheels of justice in motion. Please keep Trayvon and his family in your thoughts and prayers.  Take a stand publicly and send your thoughts to Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who will be overseeing the grand jury case.

Thank you for your support.

— Valerie Hart-Craig, president

Greater Terre Haute Branch NAACP