Protesters at the Million Hoodies Union Square in New York demand justice in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. (Photo by David Shankbone)
Many opponents of hate crime legislation argue that hate crimes are no more harmful than ordinary crimes. I beg to differ. Hate crimes are a constant reminder that prejudice is not only alive and well but also thriving in American society.
As dozens of residents take to the Los Angeles streets today in tribute to Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old fatally shot by a neighborhood watchman in Florida, it’s hard not to realize that a post-racialized American is far from our reality.
Martin serves as a current reminder that we live in a racialized world. For the Asian-American community, there was a reminder in the Vincent Chin case.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of the 27-year-old Chinese American beaten to death in June 1982 by two white autoworkers who went virtually unpunished for the crime.
Students at the University of Southern California are asked about Vincent Chin in connection a documentary on Chin presented by the Asian Pacific Americans for Progress in association with Tony Lam Films. (Courtesy of Vincent Chin Film)
“The decision was made to go public because we felt we had to fight and let everyone know the anger and sense of injustice that we had suffered,” explained Jim Shimoura, a civil rights attorney on the Chin case.
The killing of Chin and Martin sparked and continues to ignite a public outpour of support and outrage that hauntingly mirrors one another.
In response to the courts slap-on-the-wrist punishments for Chin’s murderers, diverse groups of people flooded the streets holding up signs that demanded justice. Signs that read “Chin Up for Justice,” “A Job is a License to Kill,” and “$3000 for a Human Life?”
On Monday, in the City of Angeles, one march for the slain teenager was dubbed the “1 Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin,” to highlight the ridiculous notion that wearing a hooded sweatshirt, which Martin was at the time of the murder, can evoke justifiable suspicion. Click to watch video footage of the march.
“I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way,” Fox News host Geraldo Rivera said Friday. Click to watch full video clip.
People were livid by the insinuation that Martin was partly to blame because of what he was wearing. Rivera later tweeted that “critics of my hoodie comments think they’re mad at me but they’re really mad at the undeniably unfair reality of young male black/brown life.”
I agree that it is this undeniable reality of young men of color that needs to be addressed. However, you shouldn’t be justified in killing someone because of what they are wearing any more than you should be justified in killing someone because of the color of their skin. These two prejudging justifications are one in the same – both beyond the spectrum of reasonable human dignity. Playing off of the protest signs in the Chin case, a hooded sweatshirt shouldn’t give someone else a license to kill.
George Zimmerman, 28, called the police about following a person acting suspiciously in his gated community. Zimmerman was told to stop pursuing Martin, but he did not.
The self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. But why would any person feel threatened by a young man whose arsenal consists of a bag of Skittles and some ice tea?
With that said, a hate crime is undoubtedly tough to prove, which leaves me fearful that at the end of this tunnel Martin and his family will not find justice.
In the call to police, Zimmerman didn’t immediately described Martin as suspicious black man. Martin was simply a person acting suspiciously who, after being asked by police, happened to be black. Was that characterization brought on by the fact that he was a young black male wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a predominately white neighborhood? We will never truly know. Listen to 911 call.
The heart of the problem lies in the fact that our socially constructed racialization of different minority groups is invisibly subconscious and deeply engrained in our society. Although it allows us to live blissfully in blindness, our rose-colored submission to the myth of a post-racialized America doesn’t allow us as a society to deal with our internalized racism.
As Americans, we need to realize that racial hierarchies and stereotypes still prosper. We are all part of an audience constantly being fed a social narrative that tells us what we should think and about whom we should think it.
Nonetheless, we are not totally powerless. It is our responsibility to realize that this narrative exists and figure out how to counter that narrative in our everyday lives.
We shouldn’t assume that people with tattoos are gangbangers. We shouldn’t assume that people speaking Spanish aren’t Americans. We shouldn’t assume that black teenagers wearing hooded sweatshirts are dangerous.
As a society we have built tall walls with bricks of racial biases and it’s imperative that we acknowledge and understand these walls in order to tear them down.
Related stories —
Los Angeles Times: Geraldo Rivera Sort of Apologizes for Hoodie Remarks
Rafu Shimpo: From Vincent Chin to Trayvon Martin