America is again faced with looking inward to see what has brought about the 21st century’s most recent racial upheaval. Some say the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, resemble those of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some even go so far as to claim America has learned nothing about race relations in the past 50 years. That, however, is far from the truth. The fact is America has learned a great deal about race relations in the past half century. These lessons are due in part to our twenty-four hour media coverage of anything that will possibly bring in higher ratings and also due to unspoken rules that are today accepted as fact.
About two years ago, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman who was acting as a neighborhood watchman in a gated community of Sanford, Florida. About six-weeks later, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter that a jury later acquitted him of. The lead investigator, Christopher Serino, later claimed “he felt pressured by several of his fellow police officers” to press charges against George Zimmerman when he (Christopher Serino) didn’t believe the evidence supported such charges. As it turned out, one of the officers pressuring Serino for the charges against Zimmerman was a friend of Martin’s father. The main question for the jury in that case was whether Zimmerman had the legal right to use lethal force under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. The question for some in the jury of public opinion was not whether Zimmerman was innocent or guilty under the law, but simply how much time in prison he should get.
During the twenty-four hour media coverage of the Martin-Zimmerman case there were endless interviews with the people involved in the case, demonstrators looking to express their opinions, as well as prominent community and TV personalities. Of course one and all denounced the shooting of a black child by a Hispanic who claimed self-defense as being criminal. Even after the jury’s acquittal continuous media coverage didn’t end. There were more discussion panels convened that spoke to the lack of objectivity of the jury’s decision along with offerings as to what should become of Zimmerman at that point.
Fast forward a couple of years and we now have the Wilson-Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. The difference between the Florida case and the Missouri case is that we now have U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder already having begun a federal criminal civil rights investigation into the incident. Many times in the past the federal government has waited until state criminal charges were exhausted before they got involved. This time things are different in the fact that we have an African/American U.S. Attorney General and that charges have all but been promised. Eric Holder should automatically be recusing himself from the case to avoid even the slightest appearance of bias. So much for objectivity!! The chances of that happening, however, are somewhere between zilch and none. So there remains the chance of an unspoken question as to how fair and unbiased this case will end up being.
What was not mentioned during the Zimmerman case and has so far not been addressed in the Brown case is how rare white on black violence is, compared to black on black violence. Why?? It would seem there is only one explanation for this, which appears to be TV ratings. How much media coverage would there be from one African-American youth shooting and killing another African-American?? The few times the issue of black on black violence has been addressed in the past year proves it produces little, if any, interest. Oh, but let an incident of white on black violence occur and there are weeks and sometimes months of 24-hour coverage with ratings jumping by leaps and bounds. This is truly unfortunate too because black on black violence in some areas of the country is absolutely epidemic. So what, if anything, has America learned from the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown case?? First thing America has learned is that if a person wants to be treated “special”, because of past wrongs, they may indeed get what they’re asking for. On the other hand, the person may wake up one day and realize the “special” they got was not the “special” they initially envisioned. America, especially white America, has learned to look at other cities and realize white and African-American relations in their community could easily mirror places like Ferguson or Chicago and to proceed with great caution.
America, especially white America, has also learned that if a white on black violent incident does occur, and especially if the African-American dies, the white person will be tried, convicted, and all but hung in the court of public opinion. The next thing America, especially white America, has learned is regardless of the evidence or past criminal record of the African-American, a white American should hope every last second is caught on camera. Last, but not least, white America has learned to avoid white on black relations whenever possible because everything will be seen with a “race card” firmly in hand.
What, if anything, can be done to hopefully improve relations between white America and black America?? First, everyone regardless of color, needs to have a voice at town hall meetings and at round-table discussions whether the “race card” is employed or not. Next, all ethnic groups need to be given the benefit of the doubt when something does go wrong between the races until the evidence, and only the impartial evidence, proves otherwise. Of course violence, regardless of who perpetrates it, during street rallies and demonstrations needs to stop immediately or be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. America also needs to keep in mind that their fellow Americans will reject new gun laws by running to their nearest gun shops whenever they feel threatened. The violent element among us will get guns no matter how many new gun laws we, as a society, care to pass. If Americans wake up and takes notice, then and only then, can our society even hope to heal the ongoing rift between white and black America.