There was a tremendous outcry when the president commented that the Boston police had acted stupidly by arresting black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as he attempted to "break in" to his own house when he was unable to open his front door. Although the police were to some extent just doing their job they still found it necessary to fudge their official report by saying the neighbor who called 911 described the "housebreaker" as black when she denied giving such a description. One was left to wonder if the same dedication to duty would have prevailed if skin color hadn't been part of the mix.
Last month a more serious encounter led to the death of a teenage boy walking home after purchasing candy and an ice-tea at a local store. A self-styled neighborhood-watch sentinel was following him and, despite being instructed by law enforcement to desist, kept after him eventually killing him. He claimed that, according to statutory license he "stood his ground" and was entitled to use deadly force because he felt his life was in danger.
Although witnesses and recorded phone messages suggest the shooter's version of events was not accurate he was allowed to leave the scene still carrying his weapon. Often, even when a police officer is involved in a shooting death he is put on paid administrative leave until a thorough investigation is completed. Nothing of the sort happened in this case, and the early conclusion is that Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter, acted without justification and perhaps because he harbored a racial bias.
Whatever conclusions are to be derived in the final disposition of this case the facts suggest that because the victim was black the incident was handled differently than it might otherwise have been. And when black reporters describe how they were instructed to behave when they were youngsters - don't run, don't run with anything in your hands, don't talk back to policemen and so on - it becomes clear that something other than normal police procedure is at work. Profiling people of color, especially black men is nothing new in many neighborhoods, but a perception on the part of law enforcement or wannabe law-enforcement types should not translate into a license to kill. The fact that this young boy was did nothing in this instance to provoke a violent response has only intensified the outrage most observers are expressing.
But there is always Fox News to see things a little differently. Geraldo Rivera, for example, said minority parents should make sure their children do not wear "hoodies" because the fact that Trayvon was wearing one was the reason he was targeted by Zimmerman and that more than anything else was why he ended up dead. What a shameful opinion to unleash into the already heated atmosphere - even from the likes of Rivera and Fox News. T
There was also a discussion on Sean Hannity's show the night before, during which he said perhaps we should just say the whole thing was an unfortunate and tragic "accident" dismissing entirely any racial animus or a need to re-examine the "standing one's ground" legislation being enacted in numerous states with the enthusiastic support of the National Rifle Association.
It would seem segments of our society won't be happy until we are all carrying concealed weapons. And in any case, the legislation in question is probably tainted by ulterior motives. Haven't we always been allowed to protect ourselves in situations where our lives are threatened? Was there any legitimate reason to specify a right to take lethal action, especially with a semi-automatic weapon? Hasn't there been plenty of evidence to suggest that our gun laws need a serious overhaul and that an underlying racial angst continues to plague our society?
The Trayvon shooting is just one more tragic and shameful example of our failure to deal with the profound problems that continue to afflict our society.