Monday, April 30, 2012

Before you 'kill' Zimmerman

There is no doubt of George Zimmerman’s guilt in the shooting that led to the death of Trayvon Martin, there however remains doubt as to whether the killing was in cold blood or an act of self defence. The trial that is ongoing is primarily expected to answer that question, at least beyond reasonable doubt.

Of the killing, Zimmerman says it was an act of desperate self-defence, against a boy he thought just a few years younger, an admission that many contest on grounds that he had a gun, and was more physically imposing that the unarmed youth he say he was fighting off. There is also that commonly held belief, within black America and elsewhere, that there is a racist undertone to Zimmerman’s action and the reaction of the police to the case afterwards. That Zimmerman insisted on going after the boy after the officer answering his 911 call indicated that he not do so, is a clear sign he racially profiled the boy and marked him as guilty of something, many contend.

Though Zimmerman and his backers say this is not the case, he couldn’t have profiled the kid that way, his background would not allow him do that—discriminate on grounds of colour—the doubt still rests heavily on his shoulders.

The whole argument on racial profiling seriously begs the question: what is racial profiling and how could that have led to the death of a boy that harmless and young?

Racial/tribal profiling exists in different forms in different places. Some are negative, other not so much so. In Nigeria, the belief that people from Warri have a high sense of humour, that the average Hausa man is honest to a fault, that the Igbo can do anything for money, that the Yoruba are cowards are some of the milder forms of racial profiling. The extra security that a green Nigerian passport or a Semitic appearance triggers in airports in the west is a more unsavoury form, at least for those on the receiving end.

For blacks in America, ethnic profiling of the negative kind is a reality and has existed for centuries in various forms. I read somewhere that the whites perceive the average black American as lazy. For a community that effectively raised America to its present status on the strength of their toil on the cotton fields, tobacco fields and countless other slave labour engagements, laziness should be the last thing that mention of them evokes. Nevertheless, there is that other one, the one that sees blacks as having a lower IQ than whites, one so well expressed by John Derbyshire is his viral article. Other unsavoury profiles, for both blacks and whites, do exist in the American society and they have for centuries and may well continue to for a long time to come.

No one can readily say when or how these negative profiling started or what their purposes are, but it is not farfetched to see in them the inherent mistrust man have for anything that looks or feels different. Perhaps, wanting to live apart from those of other races/tribes worked well in the past, but the world today is a global community. It is just not possible to be exclusive.

That said; one would not shy from arguing that the black American community have not exactly done much to dispel the negative profiles that have hung around it for decades, if not centuries. Unlike the white American community that tries hard to show it is a community of contrasts where you have the good and the bad, there seem to be an unconscious move by the blacks to cultivate the aggressive image, perhaps as a kind of defence mechanism after years of oppressive living under the whites. I really don’t know, just grasping at straws here, but the stereotype of the black American that is commonplace is that of highly strung individuals with ill repressed anger that is always threatening to blow up, with disastrous consequences.

While this description would in reality describe only a minute amount of people in the black community, the others chose to wear it as a garb, a kind of communal identity that only spells doom. I have heard mention of the nature of the American system and how it predisposes black to drop out of school and fail, how that is the cause of a higher percentage of them than whites in America’s prison system, how it makes it harder for them to find work. However, coming from where I am coming from, I say they, and only they, can make good no matter the situation. Well, that is my take, I know the debate of whether the system set black up to fail is still on and will continue for much longer.

Getting back to Zimmerman, if we are to agree with those insisting he racially profiled Trayvon Martin, then, we are agreeing that the common racial profiling of black Americans is negative. That being the case, Zimmerman, A neighbourhood watch volunteer (I think they operate in much the same way neighbourhood watches operate in Nigeria, with police as the authority and the volunteers referring cases to them), saw a black youth in a hoodie walking by a thought “crime”. He gave case, pulled his gun at some point and shot the youth dead, only it turned out the suspect was just an innocent boy out for some snacks.

Trayvon Martin is dead; nothing that happens now can change that fact. We have to keep in mind that black youths have been breaking into houses in that neighbourhood for some time before this incident, and that this might justify Zimmerman’s profiling, but does that change much? The boy is dead. In his death and in the death of thousands of people world over, we see further evidence of man’s inability to live with man without conflict, in his death lies the shame of our age.

In his death lie lessons for his community and everyone else. While incidents of history like this one may make it seem expedient to glorify the thug life, to see offense as a form of defense, we have to be wary that times have changed. The celebration of the criminal life, something sagging pants and a hoodie pulled over the eyes to hide the face at night tends to glorify, is not the way to go.

The world needs to take another look at the music stars that encourage the gangland lifestyle, who rap and talk about killing one another in glowing terms. Black America need to adopt more positive role models for their kids, they need to show them the many positive examples being set by the children of immigrant family, of which their president is one, who have taken the opportunities available and made good. They need to tell people like 50 Cents and Lil Wayne to stop being bad influences on their kids by mouthing negative lyrics, they need to learn to stay married and raise kids in decent homes. Most importantly, they need to stop complaining of white America’s ill treatment and take the immense opportunities their society offers.

For the zimmerman’s of this world, whatever reason caused him to kill the youth, the right to take a life is not yours, and “standing your ground” does not make it right when the person you are confronting is unarmed.
For the people angry and gunning for revenge, think about how many blacks were killed in black on black violence in America this week before you kill Zimmerman in your head.

Justice is from above.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Beyond the Outcry

Everyone that pays attention to the media, especially international media from the west, must have at this point in time heard about Trayvon Martin. If by chance you happen to have crawled under a rock in Mars for the last one month and thus missed the whole commotion, Trayvon Martin is the 17-year-old boy shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer.

If you don’t know about the details of the case, as many still don’t, you might not think much of a headline that says “boy killed by guard”. But why should you think different, News headlines are replete with such news stories anyway. 

However, the Trayvon Martin case is unique in more ways than one. Not only is the late Trayvon Martin a minor, he was unarmed and not partaking in anything illegal at the time he was fatally shot by Zimmerman. Sad, you might say, another young boy at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Yes, Trayvon Martin was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong time and place for a black youth to be in 21st century America. Wrong place to be, but right sort of place to get a bullet in the chest. A bullet fired by a white adult male who clearly outweighs him.

For those who have had the time in this dreary economic climate to follow the ruckus that emanated after the news sipped out that Mr. George Zimmerman, the killer of that innocent boy, was allowed to walk free after the fact, two truths ring clear: Zimmerman pulled the trigger of the gun that took the young boys life, the victim was armed with skittles and a cup of ice tea at the time of the shooting and was not doing anything untoward—except we follow George Zimmerman’s contention that the boy was walking aimlessly around the neighbourhood and agree with him that that constitutes a crime.

I feel profound sympathy for the family of the late Trayvon Martin and can only hope they find the strength to bear the loss, but the issue at hand is deeper than the death of a boy that made his parents proud.
I also feel sympathy for black Americans, who have had to contend with similar killings by high-handed and often times racially motivated white gunmen. I watch the news story and share the rage and confusion of those who ask that the boy’s killer face justice, not because I am of the same race with a majority of those I see carrying placards calling for justice, but because I never ever believed in extra-judicial killing by anyone.

As a Nigerian who has not personally experienced the blind racism that many allude to in the west, that one reads about, sees in movies and TV debates, I cannot claim to fully understand what it feels like to be discriminated against because of one’s colour. I know many say tribalism is similar, but I think it is only superficially so as one’s tribe cannot easily be decoded at first glance--one’s race is usually as clear as day.

However, as justified as my anger and that of millions around the world itching for justice is, I also know that getting justice for Trayvon Martin should not be the end of it. It is easy to march on the street and call for the arrest of one man, but forgetting that the arrest and possible imprisonment of one man does not change the situation on the ground that made his alleged crime possible. There is now greater need for people the world over to look at how we relate to ourselves. Should we continue hating because we don’t understand, or seek knowledge to make us better understand?

Across the world, people continue to hate more than they love, to kill more than they save and the destroy more than they build. Life, particularly human life is considered most sacred by religions world over. Yet, in this earth, man continues to see killing as a means of settling real and perceived disputes.

Trayvon Martin is just another notch on the pole that marks the billion untimely taken as a result of man’s resolve to take rather than give life to his kind and George Zimmerman, whether he pleads self-defence or not, broke the law of nature, he killed Trayvon Martin.