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

A reader asks why this tragedy is considered racial injustice. DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti responds.

Luke 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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