By U.S. Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (NY-10)
Nearly the entire country is riveted on the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin. And while we demand justice for his death, there is a larger story that must be addressed. I, for one, am sick and tired of burying young black males. Most of these young males are dying senseless deaths--whether at the hands of hate mongers or other young black males. Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die at such an early age. Yet his chances of meeting an early demise were heightened simply because he was young, black and male.
Trayvon was murdered in a "safe" neighborhood. It was a gated community that was supposed to keep out lawbreakers. He had legitimate reasons for being in that gated community only he did not fit the profile of the people who were supposed to be in that neighborhood. Being a young black male automatically made him a suspect. Being a young black male wearing a hoodie made him dangerous. Since when does a hoodie make you a hoodlum?
He had a legitimate reason for wearing the hoodie. It was raining. One can only imagine that Trayvon felt safe in the neighborhood. His father was visiting his fiancé who lived in the neighborhood. Obviously, neither he nor his father thought he would be in danger going to the store to buy a snack. But someone spotted this young black male in their safe neighborhood wearing a hoodie and the image was threatening.
George Zimmerman decided to take the law into his own hands. He had a licensed gun and he was patrolling his safe neighborhood looking for suspects who may have perpetrated several recent break-ins. He saw Trayvon Martin and he fit the profile. And because of the idiotic "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida, Zimmerman felt he had the right to act if he felt threatened despite being told not to pursue his suspect. The law is idiotic because it is vague and open to various interpretations and has led to significant rises in homicides in Florida and in states that have similar laws on the books.
After responsible authorities have examined the evidence, perhaps a clearer picture of the events that led to the death of Trayvon Martin will emerge, but the tragic result will still be the same--another young black male sent to a premature grave simply because he fit someone's profile. When I read the accounts of this tragedy, I had a chilling flashback to another young black male who suffered a similar fate--young Emmet Till who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14 because he allegedly flirted with a white woman. And more than a half-century later we are still burying young black males for no good reason.
This must end. The lives of young black males must be valued as much as all other lives. Whatever pathology that causes young black males to turn on each other must be dealt with. Whatever prejudice that leads people to believe that all young black males are dangerous thugs must be undone. There are a number of initiatives that are addressing the plight of young black males, and this must be an urgent priority for black leadership. Saving our young black males must be a critical mission for our churches.
This effort must begin at the cradle. Too many young black males are born into environments that offer little hope of escape. Many do escape but far too many others have a very short cradle to the grave experience.