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Works and Days

From the Trayvon Martin Tragedy to a National Travesty

April 1st, 2012 - 4:05 pm

11. There was no expectation that either the president or attorney general would issue advisories, calling for a reduction in tensions while the criminal justice system investigated the shooting. Mr. Holder had little credibility as a disinterested adjudicator (cf. “cowards,” “my people,” charges of racism against congressional inquirers over Fast and Furious), and President Obama had lost his opportunity by bizarrely reminding the nation that the deceased would have resembled the son he never had. There is no credible administration voice calling for calm; nor can there now be. Did President Obama infer that had Mr. Martin been white, he would have been silent, or expressed no particular solidarity with the deceased — and thereby those of us who are not African-American should feel no special connection with the deceased because Mr. Martin did not look like our sons, but we should have, if he had? If so, then the president of the United States sees American society largely in tribal terms, where our own interests and empathy are predicated largely on kindred race.

Where do these realities of the case leave us?

Much of black America, and many liberals in general, believe that the Martin shooting is a classic reminder of both contemporary racial prejudice, and the wages of decades of discrimination and oppression in the United States. In such a climate and in a country with such a history, there is not necessarily logic to be found, or some sort of constructed equivalence. Instead, they accept that America is a racist society, and then all of the above assumptions take on a certain logic.

The problem?

There are millions of Americans who do not buy into the above paradigm. Millions of whites were born decades after the civil rights movement, and do not believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are privileged on the basis of their race. They came of age in the era of affirmative action, do not discriminate or tolerate discrimination, do not wish to utter the repulsive N-word, and, to be candid, often have experienced first-hand inordinately high black crime percentages. (My first two experiences with violent crime were as a graduate student in East Palo Alto in 1975, when an African-American male tried to break into my apartment with a bat, and when two African-American males tried to knock me off a bike and steal it.) For millions, then, the notion of collective guilt is less palatable. Millions of others are Latino, Asian, or of mixed heritage. In their view, fairly or not, they too do not accept many of the above premises: they do not see their apostasy as racism, and charges of racism cause them little worry. Nor do a growing number of blacks see their fates as predicated on the degree present of white racism.

In other words, we are left with the following paradoxes: the traditional civil rights industry will see the Martin case as an indictment against America, one deserving of compensatory and reparatory action from the majority, which they are prepared to oversee and adjudicate. The majority, of citizens, however, sees the current civil rights hierarchy as much of the problem with, not the solution to, the Martin tragedy. No, it is worse than that still: the Martin case has evoked renewed interest not in disproportionate rates of black crime alone, but in the civil rights leadership’s apparent lack of concern about it.

And Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman?

At this writing no one yet knows whether an edgy neighborhood watch bully gratuitously provoked an incident and shot an unarmed victim, or whether he was himself pounded to the pavement, when in self-defense reaching for a weapon to ward off his assailant — or neither of the above scenarios or something else still.

And increasingly few sadly seem to care to find out.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage photographed Ira Bostic / Shutterstock.com.)

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