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Ask the White Guy: Why Is Trayvon a White-on-Black Crime?

Ask the White Guy, Luke Visconti, DiversityInc CEOLuke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Reader comment:
Very, very tragic situation. They should have arrested Zimmerman. I can understand the outrage. I don’t understand the perception that this is a white on Black crime.

* UPDATE: Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11,2012.

Response:
Thank you for sensitively expressing your desire for understanding. Asking is the first step toward gaining clarity. Asking with care builds bridges.

This is absolutely about white on Black. Please read my original column about Trayvon Martin to see my full explanation on “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Not understanding about this not being a white-on-Black crime is related to white privilege. White people can look at Trayvon’s murder as a horrible incident in isolation. We white people do not have to live under the context of a pattern of injustice—we cannot see the forest; we just see the trees. Most white people have no awareness of white privilege, and even if they do, it’s impossible to truly understand it from the perspective of being an outsider.

There’s a mechanical/legal reason for not arresting Zimmerman, but it is part of a pattern: The (white) police chief didn’t arrest Zimmerman because the police chief and the prosecutor don’t do things that ruin their arrest/prosecution percentages. Every state that passed the “Stand Your Ground law” has the same problem—judges can dismiss the case before the trial begins under the concept of “true immunity” based on a “Stand Your Ground” assertion.

The legal situation before the National Rifle Association started advocating the “Stand Your Ground” law and got it passed in 21 states was that an armed person was expected to back down from a confrontation. The combination of “Shall Issue” with “Stand Your Ground” equates to legalized lynching because there are too many guys like Zimmerman packing pistols.

Zimmerman gets to be the current poster boy for the widespread and historical practice of a white police force of a southern small town not arresting the murderer of a Black person. It’s a reminder that non-majority people STILL live in a United States where the powers that be in stinky little towns can put their heel on the head of anyone they wish. The cliché is that little southern town in Lowndes County, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to live in Arizona if I were Latino—and the south is not alone; just try Driving While Black in Clark, N.J.

The facts and figures are unarguable: Non-white people are food for the prison-industrial complex. The laws and law enforcement are geared up for a disparate and often capricious application of the law. We’ve gotten better as a nation, but the end results tell the tale: We imprison almost eight times the per-capita average of the rest of the world (yet Zimmerman walks free!) Almost 60 percent of prisoners are Black and Latino. The War on Drugs started in 1970—what kind of war would we still be fighting 42 years later if we weren’t winning? It all depends on how you define winning. Drugs are more available and are CHEAPER than they were in 1970, but the prison industry is a howling success! Who are we REALLY having a war on? Our Black and Latino neighbors, that’s who. Nobody but a sadist would describe anything about “Stand Your Ground” or the War on Drugs as “winning.”

If I were the police chief, I’d have arrested the murderer just to know that I did the right thing. If the prosecutor didn’t want to advance the case because he/she was afraid to hurt their conviction percentage, that’s on his/her hands. If the judge wanted to dismiss it because of “Stand Your Ground,” that’s on his/her hands. But if you just don’t care about a young Black man in a hoodie (or if you’re a coward/bully/moral cypher with a badge and a gun), then you do what’s politically expedient.

What makes Trayvon so powerful is his absolute innocence and that he was a very handsome young man. With no due respect for Sen. Santorum, what “makes me want to throw up” is that the less beautiful and less innocent around us get ground to bits without anyone hearing a sound or seeing a picture or knowing their names—in gigantic numbers. The patterns are what make this a white-on-Black crime.

I don’t want to close on a totally negative note. My sense is that we will see justice for Trayvon and that it may lead to a greater justice in repealing “Stand Your Ground” in less recalcitrant states. We also now know the power of social media—we don’t need to wait for a white reporter at The Sanford Herald to point a finger at his/her white neighbor. We can take communications in our own hands and Stand OUR Ground. Good—but it won’t let Trayvon grow up to be a man.

Read also: Why the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ Is Capitalized at DiversityInc

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148 Comments

  • A bigger travesty not to trivialize a tragic death is the institutional racism in this case. This makes it clearly a Black on White crime, if there was any doubt. What removes any possibility of this simply being an individual mistake, aside from evidence, is the systemic and institutionalized cover-up that has transpired. As was said, the Police Chief has not made an arrest and the Prosecutor has chosen not to send the Police Chief an arrest warrant. The fear of no recourse for individual rights continues to vibrant soundly in many communities across America!

  • Karen Hernandez

    It is a crying shame that this senseless murder and other compelling evidence exists to prove that racism is still a problem in America in 2012. Dr. Martin Luther King is probably watching and praying from Heaven and saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” May God help us all come to the realization that we are all brothers and sisters and need to learn to love one another if we are to survive as a “human” race. Keep up the good work you are doing, Luke.

  • I am retired military. As much as we dont want to admit it the United States has always been a racist country. Where else, it what other country when you apply for a job does it ask you your race. Most european countries simply state “national or foreign born”. Here is the good old US of A we ask, Caucasian, Aleutian, Eskimo, Black, Asian, African American, so many choices. Why not Christian or Protestant, Irish or Catholic, Muslem or Jew?

    We still think in this country that 1 drop of black blood makes you black, so who isnt black lately? My friends from Ethiopia dont want to check African American or Black on a job application so they check other.

    Other what? Race, Tribe, Creed, Religion.

    Arent we all just the human race? Why cant we all get along as well in public as we often do in private? You know what I mean.

  • becauseitmatters

    Dear Luke Visconti,

    Like so many others I am heartbroken and Furious over the murder of and utter lack of justice for Trayvon Martin. I hope and believe justice will now be done. I would like to ask you why so few white celebrities have spoken out about this when they so easily and constantly take to their twitter accounts to speak out about cancer and the environment. Don’t get me wrong those causes are also dear to me, but innocent children being murdered and racism will always come first in my books. I am “white” and I am sick of seeing white people constantly ignoring racism, trying to sweep it under the rug and just having so little compassion for it and hardly ever standing up against it. Why is there such cowardice and ignorance among whites and I am focusing here on the educated white who should know better who have it in them to care but just can’t be bothered. WHY do they have so little interest in cases like these. It infuriates me and saddens me because i truly feel that racism cannot be overcome until white people get off their privileged rears and start caring about it, admitting that they don’t know how it feels to be victims of REAL racism and standing up against it even though they will never get it adn while admitting that never beign able to understand it, doesn’t mean they can’t care deeply about it.

  • becauseitmatters

    I will never know what real racism feels like, but I know what it feels like to care deeply about it and to want with all my heart to live in a world free of all this horrible prejudice.

  • AGAINST RACISM

    The white man has no right to kill
    and
    The black man has no right to kill
    why
    Brian Milligan was beaten because he has a black girlfriend by black people
    Jan Pawel Pietrzak was killed because he was white by black people

    This is not racism?

    Why do people kill?

  • Its frightening that after such an arduous march for civil rights, American society still treats some of its citizens like the wretched of the earth. Its a compelling lesson for South Africa to remain vigilant against racism. Apartheid is a dreadful, insiduous disease! We must never stop trying to give this world a more human face.

  • PEARLINA STORY

    JUSTICE IS FREEDOM

  • Your article was very thoughtful and considerate. We Americans should be that way toward each other often.

  • While I agree that being white carries with it a level of security and panacea from certain injustices, I can’t help but feel qualifying Zimmerman as a murderer assuming facts of the case which are not clear: “I’d have arrested the murderer just to know that I did the right thing.” Further bridging the divide, unfortunately on racial grounds, is the need to use lables which require a full understanding of the tragedy along with a presumed mindset of Zimmerman and a jury decision. We also see terms such as vigilante tossed around. Standing outside the situation we are presented with differing accounts of the story. We are making assumptions based on a recorded 911 call. Images are shown which imprint in our minds representations of the people involved. Why was Trayvon face down? Why did Zimmerman have wounds to his face and back of his head? Could youth considerably taller, yet much lighter, threaten an adult? I have tried my best to refrain from assessing blame and unfortunately until we know that Zimmerman in fact did “murder” Trayvon, that it was not an act of self-defense (which I agree is tough to fathom) even having this discussion requires that the majority, if not all, the guilt is on Zimmerman. Are we even to the point in our information gathering stage that we can intelligently assert this?

    • Luke Visconti

      We’re seeing many emails with the same talking points, even the “New Black Panther Party” has been trotted back out. Trayvon is dead. Zimmerman engaged him after the police told him not to.

      Zimmerman killed an unarmed teenager. He murdered him. Trayvon is dead. Zimmerman is alive.

      How much more clear do you need it to be?

      • Luke – you are probably right, but there have been many cases of innocent people ending up on death row because of so called indisputable evidence. I think he should be arrested, but be careful folks, he is innocent until proven guilty.

        • Luke Visconti

          I can’t imagine that I’d be walking around free if I shot someone in front of my house. Doesn’t matter what the reason was. Nobody’s disputing that Zimmerman shot Trayvon. But there are places in this country, apparently including Sanford, Florida, where shooting a Black man doesn’t rise to the level of being particularly interesting to local law enforcement. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • actually yes white teenagers (especially boys) do. Out here in rural Ohio white teen boys are routinely roughed up by police, especially when they don’t know that if your driver side window on the car you just bought with your own money doesn’t open and you open your door, the police will grab you and throw you to the ground and cuff you. It is very much more dangerous for black youth, I agree, but do not assume all teens are not at risk. I think many people are just afraid of teenage and young men that don’t have a polo and khackys on!

  • Franklin E Rutledge

    I try to give my opinions on many subjects. Many things I say will never change the hearts of most people, but I hope they will change a few. Most of the times, we write about issues like Martin vs Zimmerman to give our opinions whether it is right or wrong. Everyone’s opinions are as good as the next person, but when we apply the ad homonym rhetoric, we will be less likely to attack the person that gives their opinion. Luke, I appreciate and enjoyed your article. It dealt with the truth as to why people are calling this a racial shooting. I also appreciate the insights of others that agree with you, but I also appreciate those that did not agree. It helped me to form what I want to write and give my opinion, while hoping only to speak the truth. Truth that is spoken in love can heal the wounded.
    I am a Black man. I am an American. I wish only to be labeled as an American, and as a result I hope to be unbiased. Fat chances the Federal government will not label me. I trust that I can be propositionally sound to explain what I believe should have happened after the death of an American citizen. First of all life is valuable. No life should ever be taken, unless the federal or state government executes vengeance on someone for taking another human’s life. Mr Zimmerman nor Mr Martin has the rights to take another person’s life. In this case Mr Zimmerman is the accused and Mr Martin is the victim. The accused is not part of the government’s law enforcement; therefore he wasn’t permitted to act in its behalf. The Law cannot allow for any of us to act as vigilantes, or we will all be killed even over acts of kindness.
    Regardless of the clothing that another person wears, no one has the rights to kill him/her. Although some clothing, or the lack thereof, is offensive and might incite anger. Nonetheless no one is deputized to kill because one wears them. If a White or Black person wears a KKK hood or a hoodie or a Yankee baseball cap in Boston, they should not be killed because of it. Regardless of Mr Martin’s choice of clothing or another person’s choice of clothing, no one has rights to take a life. Life is valuable.
    As individuals we might not like the lifestyle of another person’s chooses, but we cannot harm or kill them. Think hard about what I am writing at this moment. Will Harvard graduates have rights to kill me because I am not as literarily strong as they are? Will millionaires be permitted to kill the poor? Will all Whites be permitted to kill Blacks and other? Will all Blacks be permitted to kill Latinos, and other minorities? Will all legal citizens be permitted to kill all non-documented persons that we call illegals? When the majority is favored, and the minority is not treated with the same reverence, we will continue to see crimes not punished.
    We missed the point from the outset. The principle wrong of this incident is that Mr Zimmerman should have been questioned, arrested and allowed bailed for this incident. Whether he is White, Hispanic, Black or Asian, he has no rights to kill another person. Even if he declared self-defense, he should not have been permitted to go free without a thorough investigation, which wasn’t done. The Federal government should be seeking to prosecute Mr Zimmerman and should also seek to prosecute the head of the law enforcement in Sanford, Fla. They should be in contact with the Governor of Florida to properly vindicate an American whose life was taken by force unnecessarily.
    Those in the media and those from the public that try to condemn Mr Martin for wearing a hoodie, or for being caught with an empty marijuana bag in time past totally show their simplicity. Those that try to justify Mr Zimmerman killing of Mr Martin totally show their stupidity by invoking “Stand Your Ground Law.” Those that want to be analysts have tried to justify the killing of an American by showing statistics of black on black, black on white, white on white and white on black crimes. Every Black, White, Asian or Hispanic person that kills another person has to be punished. No one should be exempt from punishment if the kill another person. Self defense is an exception, and should only be granted by a jury.
    In my conclusion, whether this is a hate crime, a racist crime, a biased crime, a random or personal vendetta, Mr Martin’s rights as an American citizen were taken from him. Mr Zimmerman doesn’t have any rights to take a human life. All the arguments are secondary to the principal law that is being ignored; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Here lies the problem, all of Mr Martin’s right were taken away by one unauthorized act of Mr Zimmerman. Now he has to prove that the State gave him the rights to act on its behalf. If the City of Sanford doesn’t arrest this none law enforcement person, Mr Zimmerman, every person in America must be offended at the practice of the law enforcement in Sanford, Florida.

  • Willard Smythe

    Luke – let’s begin with your words… “If I were the police chief, I’d have arrested the murderer just to know that I did the right thing.”

    It is worlds like these that are so harmful. I actually believe that everyone is coming to the same conclusion on this matter – that Zimmerman should have been arrested. But there is simply so much we don’t know. If you think he’s guilty (calling him a murderer suggests you do), I am willing to bet your biases are coming into play. If someone else thinks Zimmerman was just defending himself against a thug, that person too is biased.

    We simply don’t know. In this twitter-verse, we are supposed to have an opinion about every event that occurs the very instant that it occurs. Let’s take a step back, let things develop (hopefully with an arrest very soon), and see where the facts take us. What is it about human beings that keep us from saying “I don’t know?”

    • Luke Visconti

      What don’t you know? I know there’s a dead teenager who was doing nothing more than walking down a street. I know my words aren’t nearly as harmful as a 9 millimeter round shot at close range. And I know that a 9 millimeter slug is far more harmful than a bag of skittles. I don’t have a problem not dancing around the obvious: I KNOW that if I were the police chief I would have arrested the murderer just to know that I did the right thing. Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

      • Sandip Seoirse

        Mr. Visconti,

        In your reply above to Willard Smythe, each point you make in describing the Travyon Martin case is hypothetical at this incredibly early stage of the legal proceedings. Nothing has yet been established as fact in a court of law. The twitter-verse Willard Smythe describes pushes us all to make rush judgements based on incomplete facts, which often, unfortunately, as the disparities in criminal statistics consistently demonstrate, prove themselves reactionary and premature in the cold light of day. It is understandable then that like many people you have already passed judgement on right and wrong in the Travyon Martin case, but in the absence of confirmed and established facts it is difficult to see your stated conclusions as something other than premature at best, and perhaps even biased, as Willard Smythe so eloquently summarized.

        • Luke Visconti

          I keep hearing and reading about these mysterious “incomplete facts” and a “rush to judgement” in the “bigotsphere” or “biggot-verse” – that aggregation of Koch-NRA-Murdoch public relations windmills, which all of a sudden are preaching non-judgement and/or being slow to judge. Maybe it’s my experience as a veteran that taught me to look at the situation, make a decision and act decisively, but here are the “confirmed and established” facts as I see them: Zimmerman is a murderer because Trayvon is not going to rise up out of the box and become alive again and there is no doubt about who had a gun (and who had Skittles), who pursued whom, who was told by the police not to pursue whom and what the end result was. The only thing that’s going to get Zimmerman off the hook is the “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives law enforcement a disincentive to arrest and prosecutors a disincentive to prosecute – because judges are compelled to dismiss cases out of hand. The “bigotsphere” is trying to obfuscate the reality: “Stand Your Ground” in combination with “Shall Issue” laws (for carrying a concealed weapon) are a toxic mix across THE region that has a history of lynching, and newly oppressive states like Arizona (which is a “Stand Your Ground” state). Keep this in mind: If you’re dark-skinned, or dress in “Muslim Garb,” or have an accent – no matter what your politics are, when you’re confronted by a nut-job with a legal handgun and the mandate to create a confrontation and pull a trigger without repercussions, it won’t matter that you’re just visiting a neighbor or buying some milk for your kids at the jiffy-mart, you’re going to be facing the judge and jury at the end of a muzzle. If that unfortunate day should happen, I’m sure you will pass judgement very quickly, and here’s a hint from what I know about shooting (I’m a master-rated rifleman and expert-rated pistol shot) – most people can’t shoot straight – run as fast as you can away from the pistol and you stand a good chance your assailant (who isn’t waiting for complete facts) will miss. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

  • Franklin E Rutledge

    How can Luke’s comments be harmful? The child is dead. Killed by Mr. Zimmerman. The word murderer is the word used to describe a person that kills another person. The court can vindicate such a person if he found not guilty. Mr Zimmerman was told by the 911 operator to leave this kid along. By him ignoring that order, it can be honestly assumed that his intentions were to harm this kid. None- biased people would call this Murder. The harm was caused by Mr. Zimmerman, not Luke.

  • Yes, Latino is not a race but quite frankly, if I saw Mr. Zimmerman walking down the street I would not see him as a white man. He may see himself as white but I doubt that many others do. He has more melanin than I do, I am also of mixed race and am Black. Thanks for the response.

  • I understand white privilege, but what type of privilege are the offenders in the story below getting. No arrest and no one paying any attention. I have not seen a peep out of the national media about this…I guess you could call it social guilt privilege. You need to ensure justice is met for all or racial tensions will never ease.

  • Gayle Edmond

    Well said, Mr. Visconti! I hope it gets through to non African Americans.

  • Here in Senegal, people think that America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. They rarely hear or experience the truth of what life is like in the Black communities of America. They only know what the mainstream media allows them to see. Thank you for rending the veil…

  • I am a very understanding person and I truly believe that this was an extremely sad event. That being said I would like to know why we as Americans aren’t told about every major killing in America? The same time this was happening there was a murder of two people in Tennessee which was much more graphic in nature than this. I think that everyone should have equal representation in the media when it comes to murders. I am very sad and I know that the parents of Trayvon will never be able to see their child again but when you hear about a couple that are dismembered and burned alive after being taken advantage of sexually. It makes me question the media since not a single person outside of Tennessee knows about this tragedy.

    • James…I’m going to take a wild guess as to why the dead couple didn’t make the news – they were *not* young, white, attractive people. Were they old? Well, then they are not as important.

      Plenty of crimes that make national news when the victim is young, white, female, and attractive do not make the national news when victims of a similar crimes is, well, not any of those things.

      I have one question, where is Nancy Grace when you need her?

      • Allison Ingram

        Actually, they were an attractive young white couple. She was 21 and he was 23, and as they were returning from a date in Knoxville, Tennessee, they were carjacked, kidnapped, brutally tortured, and raped. Four African Americans were indicted and another arrested as an accessory. Local residents found it odd this was not considered a hate crime.

  • Linda in Cincinnati

    Like Luke, I don’t know what it is to be an African American man or woman. I’ve not in my life had an officer ask to search my car after stopping me, never had a gun drawn on me by shouting police, the few times I’ve been pulled over there was a reason (speeding), no clerks follow me around the store except the typical can I help you can I help you can I help you… I can’t be Black, but in my soul I can be. Not the same, but I can feel the pain, work to change it when I can, and back up what is said by those who are brown and black with what I’ve seen. I do know what it is to wonder if the son will make it home from the midnight shift without being pulled over, have sold a car before because it was targeted by police, have witnessed what easily could have been the death of my son at the hands of a taser, have witnessed what was later falsely written up in police reports and on and on and on. My sons are Native, and one looks “suspicious”. Very very suspicious. The dark one.

    I recall long ago being asked if I would ever date a black man and saying no because why would I bring all that trouble on myself when there were so many others? Funny in hindsight because not even thinking twice about it because my area was not racist against Natives, I ended up with two Native sons then moved with the job to an area that didn’t see it the same way. One thing that did for me though after all the troubles that still continue is open my white eyes and at a level that mattered to me. Makes me want to thank all mixed couples I see for being pioneers because bringing races together into families changes things.

    Luke, I work in a great company that I much appreciate with many opportunities to work in a mixed multi-race multi-nationality environment. I’ve reported to white, Indian, and African American both male and female. However, none of what I’ve experienced beyond the doors of that company in the middle of the night on our front lawns with police present nor court appearances and so on are mentioned. Some tell me their experiences when they know my story, but as advanced as the workgroups are what goes on in the “real world” is not discussed. We are there for business. Do you ever think there will come a time in our lifetimes where these global companies who follow this magazine will realize that the most detrimental, draining, counter-productive and counter “do the right thing” most of us encounter does not occur on the job and cannot change unless the global leaders get the elephant out and put it on the table and help communities to address it?

    • Pamela in Texas

      Indeed WE (all) have to start talking to each other in real, compassionate, and accountable terms. I believe that the culture of silence around race relations compounds the issue. Silence makes our society a more accessible hiding place for those who chose to be racist as others can guess about their intentions and we continue having our isolated perspectives of the Black/White experience in America. Research shows that by Kindergarten kids have a perspective of race (good/bad/better.) I fully support requiring explicit teaching of race relations in early education. Over 200 years of racism and confusion is enough!

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