After the acquittal in the homicide case of Trayvon Martin, many blacks are accusing the U.S. justice system of latent racism. They are taking to the streets in big cities.
In the summer of 1955, a 14-year-old black male named Emmett Till entered a drugstore in the little town of Money, Miss. to buy candy. Shortly afterward, he was dead: torn from his bed by white racists, beaten, one eye poked out and shot to death. The reason: Till is supposed to have flirted with the white wife of the shop owner.
In February 2012, a 17-year-old black male named Trayvon Martin entered a drugstore in the little town of Sanford, Fla. to buy candy. Shortly afterward, he was dead: shot to death by a hobby cop in a scuffle. The reason: Martin wore a hoodie and was new in this white neighborhood.
In both cases there was no guilty verdict for the perpetrators. George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012 in self-defense, decided the six jurists — all women, five of them white — on Sunday. Emmett Till's murderers were not even charged in 1955.
Is America’s original sin of racism catching up to it? Do special laws apply for blacks in the fifth year in office of the first black president of the United States? Thousands of demonstrators carried these accusations to the streets of all big cities in the U.S. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met leading black civil rights leaders in Orlando to discuss the case.
A New Kind of Racism
Till in 1955 and Martin in 2013: Racism played a decisive role in both acts, maintains Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology at Yale University, in an essay for The Washington Monthly. However, racism has substantially changed in the six decades since Till’s lynching. The murderers of Emmett Till in 1955 were fanaticized by the idea that, in Anderson's words, “blacks are an inherently inferior race, a morally null group that deserves both the subjugation and poverty it gets.” Today, in contrast, racism is expressed in the “stereotypes that all black people start from the inner-city ghetto and are therefore stigmatized by their association with its putative amorality, danger, crime and poverty.”
The Long Shadow of the Ghetto
The long shadow of the ghetto follows many African-Americans on their continual march into the middle class and further upward. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” said Barack Obama after the case became known. The president meant that as a symbol of solidarity with the victim and his parents. Yet he owes his political rise to the White House to the fact that he was always scrupulously attentive precisely to not looking like Trayvon Martin. Obama was and is considered by many powerful black activists and religious leaders to be “too white.”
Hardly any nation has fought so resolutely against this injustice as the Americans: Laws against racial discrimination and for active favoritism toward blacks have made possible the advancement of millions of blacks to becoming successful members of the middle class. The verdict on Sunday presents a test for the nation whether “the moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice,” as Martin Luther King Jr. said when he prophesied the end of racial segregation in his March 25, 1965 speech in Montgomery.