Racism in America: President Obama's Double-Bind on Trayvon Martin
When the president took a question on the Trayvon Martin case yesterday, he responded carefully:
President Obama did not mention race even as he addressed it on Friday, instead letting his person and his words say it all: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
...“I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids,” Mr. Obama said. “Every parent in America,” he added, “should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
The tragedy is not just that a young boy was murdered in cold blood. The tragedy is that the police have so far left the murderer free to kill again. They haven't held him accountable for his actions. That's why the federal government is involved.
The president's response was tempered, which is appropriate considering that the case is under investigation.
“I’m the head of the executive branch and the attorney general reports to me so I’ve got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now,” he said.
But that doesn't mean he hasn't received criticism.
Boyce D. Watkins, a Syracuse University professor and the founder of the Your Black World coalition, said Friday in a Twitter message, “If Trayvon’s mother were white, would Obama give her a call?”
Dr. Watkins, in an interview, called Mr. Obama’s statement “a step in the right direction,” but added that the president could “squash a great deal of the criticism” with a call to the parents. And while applauding Mr. Obama’s comment that his own son would look like Trayvon, Dr. Watkins said the president’s remarks were characteristic of how Mr. Obama talks to black people.
“That’s what I would refer to as a standard political smoke signal that President Obama sends through the back door to the black community,” Dr. Watkins said. “He communicates to the black community in code language. That’s a subtle way of saying, ‘I know this kid is black.’ ”
Everyone knows that Trayvon Martin was black. What the president was saying is that this case has hit him on a personal level because he can really identify with the mourning parents. For Newt Gingrich, this is appalling. Here's what Newt said on the Sean Hannity Show:
“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," Gingrich said. "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," Gingrich continued on Hannity's show. "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 of 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.”
So, the president, by not specifically mentioning race, was trying to turn a racially-motivated murder into a racial issue. At the same time, prominent members of the black community are criticizing him for not being explicit enough and not interjecting himself into the story sufficiently. It seems that the president cannot win.
Gingrich's comments are particularly egregious and opportunistic. People are murdered all the time. What makes the Trayvon Martin case noteworthy is that the police know who the murderer is and have so far simply refused to arrest him. It is highly unlikely that a white boy, even one wearing a hoodie, would have been followed, harassed and shot to death, but it is completely unthinkable that a white boy's death would not have resulted in an arrest.
Bad things happen. Slightly crazy people get it in their head that they're Charles Bronson and start shooting innocent civilians because they think they look suspicious. We have ways of dealing with that. It's called the criminal justice system. That system isn't working in this case because the victim is black and his parents are black.
Everything about how the police behaved in this case indicates differential treatment. They assumed the boy didn't belong in the neighborhood, that his parents didn't live there. They didn't try to contact his parents and let him sit in the morgue with a 'John Doe' tag on his foot. They simply accepted the murderer's claim of self-defense at face value, even though they knew that he had pursued an unarmed boy against their advice, shot him, and killed him.
A transcript of the murderer's 911 call shows that Zimmerman referred to the victim as "these assholes" that "always get away" and possibly said "fucking coons." It's hard to make any kind of argument that the victim could have been "Puerto Rican or Cuban or...white or...Asian-American," as Gingrich suggests. The racial animus on the tape is obvious.
He was gunned down because he was black and Zimmerman assumed he was an "asshole" who didn't belong in his neighborhood. But, again, racially-motivated murders happen quite frequently. The reason the president is talking about this case is because the police didn't do anything. That's the reason the whole nation and the world are talking about this case. And if Newt Gingrich thinks that white parents would be treated this way, he's delusional. But Newt doesn't think that. Go to the comments section at Fox News and start reading some of the 10,000 hate-filled comments about the president's remarks on Trayvon Martin and you will understand exactly what Newt Gingrich is doing.