The murder of Trayvon Martin continues to garner headlines in much of the national media, as it should. I, for one, would like to see this tragedy pave the way for some positive headway made into establishing a long awaited, and overdue national dialogue on race relations in this country. I taught a course in cultural diversity to baby-faced recruits when I was assigned to the police academy. In my opening comments, I would mention how if it were up to me, they would teach this course in our schools starting in the first grade, if not Pre-K. As Roland Martin from CNN puts it, will the death of Trayvon Martin be a “moment or a movement”?
A bit of blame has been cast on just about everyone involved in this tragedy. From George Zimmerman who pulled the trigger to the Sanford Police Department who many accuse, myself included, of conducting a questionable investigation. You may have even heard Geraldo Rivera blaming Trayvon for his own death because he was wearing a hoodie (the same Geraldo who as the president of the Young Lords vehemently fought for justice for those who couldn’t.) One group that has virtually skated so far in the blame game are the Mad Men. No, not the characters of the AMC hit show, but the members of the Florida legislature who enacted the “stand your ground” law. Trust me when I say that I’m not attempting to be humorous when I ask WTF was the Florida legislature thinking. And not just the Florida legislature but also the 20 or so states that have enacted similar legislation.
Maybe they should have just called it the ‘vigilantes r us’ law. Even police officers, who are constantly in the cross hairs of violence, have to abide by laws and departmental regulations on when they can use deadly physical force. Law enforcement professionals are schooled in the use of force continuum. A standard that provides law enforcement officials & security officers with guidelines as to how much may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation. A layman’s explanation on the continuum of force would be that cops could bring guns to a knife fight, but not to a fist fight. If every cop ever punched in the face by a dirt bag were legally allowed to shoot that dirt bag, well just use your imagination. We place stringent restrictions on the use of deadly physical force on police officers to prevent and curtail the abuse of power by those who society already entrusts with so much power. In a civilized and law abiding society we don’t want our police officers to also play the role of judge and executioner. Why, then, do states like Florida pass legislation that allows an average citizen to do that which those that we entrust with our safety can’t? Why does the National Rifle Association, which prides itself on its support for law enforcement agencies, endorse legislation which these same agencies are vehemently opposed to? Hmm…I wonder if it has anything to do with gun sales and the hefty contributions that gun manufacturers make to the NRA….
We must ensure and demand that the Trayvon Martins of society get their chance to be heard – even if their own voices can’t be heard. We must also strive to ensure that his tragic and avoidable death become a movement in our hearts and minds and not just a moment, like so many others that have been forgotten.