Imagine going to the corner store for a snack, and getting accosted on the way home by a man with a gun who chases you down, attacks you and ultimately shoots you in the chest and leaves you to die. Then imagine that, when the cops arrive, multiple eye witnesses describe the incident, but no forensic analysis of the scene is performed and the shooter is let go because he claims self defense.
Now imagine that you are a young black male and try again (my apologies to the young black males reading this).
The shame of the Trayvon Martin incident is not only that it happened, but that it happens too often. By ‘it,’ I mean a black male is singled out because of race, attacked and then law enforcement officials fail to make arrests or pursue appropriate prosecution.
Let us remember that the UMass Amherst campus has a classic example in its recent history. In 2008, Jason Vassell, an African American UMass student in good standing, was sitting in his dorm room minding his own business when two drunk white men visiting campus saw him through his dorm window. They shouted racial slurs, broke his dorm room window and challenged him to a come out and fight. When Jason called a friend for help, the attackers gained entrance to the dorm and punched Jason in the face, breaking his nose and causing a concussion, and proceeded to chase him around the entrance area. Jason warned them to back off and declared he had a knife, and after they attacked him, Jason defended himself with his weapon.
What did the cops do? They figured it was a drug crime, let the white men go and charged Jason with attempted murder. Two and a half years later, after an uproar from the community and several legal rulings in Jason’s favor, the prosecutor finally dropped all charges. Only one of the two white attackers was ever charged, and he was convicted of simple assault.
How is this like Trayvon Martin? A black guy minding his own business is attacked by a white guy looking for trouble, no charges are filed. Miscarriage of justice? You decide.
Don’t think these things only happen in some parts of the country. They happen all around us and we all should suffer the shame of it and work much harder to fix it.
Professor of Biology