Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why President Obama Should Speak on The Death of Trayvon Martin

By now we've all heard the grisly details of what happened the night of February 26th in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. A 17-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, armed with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea was shot in his chest and killed by the neighborhood watch captain in the neighborhood where he was returning to his father and his father's fiancee's home. Martin is dead, his 28-year-old self-admitted killer is a free man. Call it murder, call it self-defense, call it vigilanteism, call it racial profiling the fact of the matter is a young Black boy is dead for no reason and our first African-American President hasn't said a word. In fact, the White House released a statement via press secretary Jay Carney saying:

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin's family. But obviously we're not going to wade into a local-law enforcement matter."
While I appreciate the administration believing in state and city sovereignty now is not the time to be diplomatic. It is the the time to show leadership. President Obama has waded into local and national issues before. In 2010, when the "ground zero mosque" sent the country into a feverish frenzy thirsty for Muslim blood, the President waded into the debate -- in the hot midterm election -- to offer his thoughts. In 2009 the President's "they acted stupidly" comment on the arrest of his friend Henry Louis "Skip" Gates ended in a badly acted round robin known infamously now as the "beer summit." And even before then, Presidential Candidate and then Senator Obama spoke about the senseless shooting of Sean Bell in New York, JENA 6 and other instances of racial profiling targeting the Black community specifically; Black men.

So why now as President should this same man who has fought and spoken out against these grave injustices remain silent?

The Black community has long wanted to feel a connection to government to get a sense it cares. Case in point President Bush and Hurricane Katrina. For days the world saw images of American citizens treated like dogs. The administration in power going everywhere but where the worst devastation was. Shoe-shopping Condoleeza Rice. A congratulatory Bush toward FEMA director Michael Brown. At every level, government failed and since then the relationship between Bush and the Black community has never been the same.

Now we have Bush's successor and he too is distancing himself from what could be a watershed moment in his Presidency.

I understand the President is reluctant to discuss race. He has an entire book explaining his search to define himself as a Black man. I can understand if he feels that he is not an authority on the subject. However, the beauty of the President's position is he can speak from both sides of the color line and give an honest account of what it is to be a non-menacing, non-threatening Black man in America who is still seen as such.

If Presidents can publicly mourn and eulogize tragedies such as the Arizona massacre where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, etc., than they can mourn national tragedies of a smaller scale.

Make no mistake the death of Trayvon Martin is a national tragedy. It is not only tragic because of the loss of a young life. Or even the fact that Trayvon was Black. The death of this child is tragic because it highlights a problem that has persisted in our Nation since before its birth. What happens when racism and fear combine and rear their ugly heads. The death of this child also speaks to a larger issue in this country. Why young Black boys are unceremoniously labeled when they don't deserve to be. Whether its BD or ADD, coon or suspicious, or even grouped into the generalized form of "these assholes" the death of Trayvon Martin illustrates in its infancy how the prison industrial complex has amassed into a beastly institution.

The fact that this is an election year should not stop the President from speaking out on this issue. It's been nearly a month since Trayvon was killed and his killer admitted to the crime. Yet there hasn't been so much as an arrest. This signals a break down in our criminal justice system at all levels; the "Stand Your Ground" law be damned.

If President Obama can tell the CBC to put their marching shoes on and lecture Black men every Father's Day about being there for their children then he can say something, anything about the death of a teen that could be his son (if he had one).

One of the President's best speeches tackled race. "A More Perfect Union." It followed the controversy surrounding the President attending Trinity church in Chicago where Rev. Jeremiah Wright is pastor. That speech put in perspective all of the racial b.s. he's encountered every day of his life; including his White grandmother admitting to him she crossed sometimes the street when approached by an unknown Black man.

The time for such a speech has come once again.

My proposed version:

The United States of America is not a melting pot. It is not a tossed salad where each individual ingredient can stand alone. It is an amalgamation of both. We are neither a national race of assimilated tan people, nor are we so nascent in our racial roots we can't see what our coloration says about where we really come from.

I am a hodge-podge of different identities. Bi-racial by birthright I have known cultures -- many in our country -- don't understand and therefore don't accept. It is this lack of understanding, this lack of acceptance that lead to non-accidental mistakes ending in tragedy for all involved.

That tragedy being the death of Trayvon Martin. At 17-years-old he may not have known the harsh realities of men of color much older than him. He may not have known that his very presence is a threat to the safety and sanctity of people in neighborhoods that do not and will not always welcome him. He did not know that by the very nature of being himself he could lose his life.

It is a lesson some Black men learn from experience. It is a lesson some Black men are taught to understand but avoid. It is a lesson I have had to contend with as President. But it is a lesson that needs to be taught and then learned no more.

In these United States of America it is understood the division of race is deep. It is a sever in our country that has caused us to war, to riot, to march and to mourn. Today we are mourning. Not just for the death of Trayvon Martin but for ourselves, for our countrymen, for our country.

The same country that by percentage incarcerates more Black men than make up the general population of this Nation. The same country that frequently punishes young Black Boys in school more often than any other race or gender. The same country where unemployment among Black males is among the highest of any other demographic. The same country that has a history of racial disparity.

When I think of Trayvon Martin I think of Emmett Till. Two young men taken from this earth too soon because they sought to be themselves in spite of the racial warnings before them.

This is not 1955. Black men are no longer lynched for looking, whistling, flirting with or marrying a White woman. Instead in 2012 they are killed without explanation, without justification, without provocation.

It is time we, every citizen of these United States, remember we are all brother and sister. Our race is not all of who we are. It does not define us even though many believe it does. Our race and how we react to it and that of others is a self-construct of our own mind that seeks to group and box people in who are meant to roam free.

Freedom, one of the main founding principles of our country has been injustly taken away from a brother, a boyfriend, a son, an American. While we cannot get back for Trayvon Martin what he has paid for in soul and spirit, we can hold on to it so that we do not forget how far we have come and how much further we have yet to go.

We can hold fast to dreams and imagine our country, our Nation, each other as the mended bird that soars. The barren field that blooms. The cognitive reasoning around race erased and replaced with a type of knowledge only begotten from the inside out.

It is from the inside out we must remake and remold ourselves into the image of what we really are and not whom we assume U.S. to be. It is from this position that possibly, maybe the cloud of racial tension will lift, the fight between Black and White, Brown and Mulatto, will end and the first notes, the first steps of harmony begin.

Without harmony we are in discordance and therefore at risk for self destruction. We are on the edge where greatness lives. Where the resilience of the United States will begin. But we must do the work. Us all. To get back what has been taken from us -- by our own actions -- and make sure it is never stolen again.

Thank you.

God Bless you.

And God Bless the United States of America.

1. Should the President discuss the death of Trayvon Martin?
2. Is this a teachable moment for National Unity?
3. What if anything as far as race relations has changed for Black men in America between 1955 and 2012.
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