I am away from my little mud house and the habits of life surrounding it. Only a couple people know how to reach me by phone. My connection to the Internet is tortured and intermittent, and events are happening in Pittsburgh and elsewhere that are shrouded from me as if in a fog. I am out of my comfort zone. I do not even have the illusion of having any control whatsoever.
On reflection, this is all a healthy thing. The work can proceed without me for a little while. One day it will have to go on without me for longer stretches of time and, eventually, forever. It will be instructive to see if anything unravels before I return home. It probably won’t. But even if it does, I’ll learn something from it.
It is so interesting to see how the Trayvon Martin story is playing out. Left-wingers are linking Trayvon’s death to America’s apparent war on black boys and young men, and the right wing is trying desperately and in many ways to decouple Trayvon’s death from racism.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” said the President on Friday.
Newt Gingrich, one of the leaders of the right’s “Tough On Crime” movement which has filled our prisons to historic levels (with two-thirds of inmates being black) predictably pounced. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.
“Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him. That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian American or if he’d been a Native American. At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
In a story reacting to a March 6, 2012 report by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) documenting race-based disproportionality in the rates of suspensions and expulsions in public schools across the United States that are feeding the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” (in 72,000 US schools African-Americans, who make up only 18% of students, account for 35% of students suspended once and 39% of those expelled), “Right On Crime” (a Texas-based think tank endorsed by the likes of Grover Norquist and Jeb Bush) said race and discipline should be decoupled: “Concern over disproportionality in school discipline is an important issue, but it is separate from the truly compelling problem of ineffective discipline policies that are holding all students back.”
Same message, separate issues. Smartly presented in a way that is not too bold-facedly offensive.
But now, there are well-known conservatives who are pushing the notion that the real injustice is that Trayvon’s death is overshadowing the story of Allen Coon, a 13 year-old Kansas City white boy who received first-degree burns in early March when, he says, he was doused with gasoline and set on fire by two black 16 year-olds, a story that is being investigated by police as a hate crime.
The real message here from the right is that the blacks are scary. But they don’t want their “War On Crime” to be perceived as a war on blacks and a means of perpetuating an historical system of servitude that was forced to morph into new forms after the American Civil War.
At the same time, the facts about the actual murder are getting murkier by the day, which I suppose suits the politicos just fine. George Zimmerman is now sporting physical injuries he says were sustained in his altercation with Trayvon, and questions are being raised about who was actually crying for help on the 911 tapes. It provides more gray area in which the ideologues can play out their scripts.
As we see in our work, court and law-enforcement agencies deprive juveniles—and blacks disproportionately—of basic fairness at various stages of the legal process, particularly during initial police interrogations conducted when the juvenile is alone and without the help of family or legal counsel. Schools are a major setting of early situations in which kids are placed on a road to anti-social and marginalized and even criminal adulthood.
The question of race can be avoided no longer. It must be honestly considered and widely discussed in America if we are to create a better future. We must have an open dialog about what it means to be a child in America and whether race should have any bearing on his or her survival, freedom, and opportunity.