Race & Ethnicity

Will Connecticut Abolish the Death Penalty?

(Flickr/League of Women Voters)
Connecticut may become the fifth state in the last five years to end the death penalty. The state Senate will likely vote today on a measure that would end capital punishment in all future cases. However, it would not have a direct impact on any of the 11 people currently on death row. If the Senate approves the measure, it will probably have an easy path forward; both the House and the governor support the repeal. But the vote will almost certainly be very close. The state has hardly been liberal with the death penalty. In the last five decades, the state has only executed one person, a serial killer who ultimately supported the sentence. There's been talk of repealing the death penalty in Connecticut for a while—the legislature passed a similar measure in 2009 only to have it vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell. A brutal triple murder in 2007 brought more attention to capital crimes. Two men broke into the home of the wealthy Petit family in Chesire, murdering the mother and two...

Why Hasn’t George Zimmerman Been Arrested Yet?

(AP Photo)
I have a new email correspondent—let’s call him “Joe,” because he doesn’t want to be named—who has suggested to me that the media storm about Trayvon is more than a little out of control. Joe writes: why isn’t there coverage to how many more young black men die at the hands of other black men? Why isn’t there a national uproar when black men murder white men? (He’s sent me clippings of a trial in one such Florida murder.) I’ve gotten hate mail, too, but from the exchanges we’ve had, my sense is that Joe’s different; he’s seriously trying to have a conversation. So let me say this: what’s deeply upsetting to me is that, more than a month after a teenage boy was killed while walking home with Skittles, George Zimmerman has not even been arrested. Listen, I don’t know what happened in Sanford, Florida, on the night of February 26. I know I’m responding to Charles M. Blow’s columns, and to the stories that I know of black men being treated as dangerous simply because they’re black , and...

Judging With Double Standards

Wikimedia commons
Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito had virtually identical formal credentials—Princeton undergrads, Yale Law School, long careers on the federal bench. But Alito was treated with great deference by the press, and even opponents of his nomination based their arguments on his consistently reactionary judicial philosophy rather than suggesting that he wasn't "qualified." Sotomayor, conversely, was subject to repeated arguments that she lacked the intellectual abilities to serve on the Supreme Court. In a particular low point, immediately before Sotomayor's nomination The New Republic 's Jeffrey Rosen published a disgraceful article full of anonymous critics engaging in sexist attacks on Sotomayor that can't even be called "veiled"—aggressive questioning that would be considered charming if it came from Antonin Scalia showed that she didn't have the appropriate temperament, that the distinguished Yale Law-educated jurist lacked the intellect to be on the Supreme Court, etc. Needless to say...

Today in False Black "Pathologies"

(freefotouk/Flickr)
Ta-Nehisi Coates does a great job of debunking the idea—which has become prevalent on the right, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and surrounding activism—that African American leaders are somehow indifferent to crime within their communities. With a simple Google search, he offers examples—drawn from the last three years—of rallies and protests in support of efforts to curtail violence in predominantly black neighborhoods. Here he is with a little commentary: I came up in the era of Self-Destruction. I wrote a book largely about violence in black communities. The majority of my public experiences today are about addressing violence in black communities. I can not tell you how scared black parents are for their kids, and whatever modest success of my book experienced, most of it hinged on the great worry that black mothers feel for their sons. In addition to highlighting the obvious truth that black people care about what happens in their neighborhoods, it’s also worth pointing out the...

Today in Reasons to Be Killed If You're Black

(The Journal News)
If Trayvon Martin showed us that wearing a hoodie and walking in a gated community is enough to get killed as long as you’re an African American male, then Kenneth Chamberlain will shows us that death is also a fitting punishment if you’re an elderly veteran, sitting in your home, who had the misfortune of accidentally calling for help: Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old African-American Marine veteran, was fatally shot in November by White Plains, NY, police who responded to a false alarm from his medical alert pendant. The officers broke down Chamberlain’s door, tasered him, and then shot him dead. Audio of the entire incident was recorded by the medical alert device in Chamberlain’s apartment. His son, Kenneth Chambrlain, Jr., was on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, and filled in some details. The story is heartbreaking: He’s saying that he’s OK. He’s saying that he did not call for them. But they were very insistent. They were banging on the door, banging on the door, banging...

Willful Ignorance

(Wikipedia)
This, from YouGov, tells you everything you need to know about contemporary race relations in a single, compact chart: For 66 percent of white Americans to agree with this statement—“Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors”—there needs to be either large scale amnesia or willful ignorance about what happened in the previous 150 years of this country’s history. In case you don’t know, it’s straightforward. After the Civil War, when African Americans were freed after more than two hundred years of bondage and chattel slavery, whites in the South—with, eventually, the complicitcy of whites nationwide—engaged in a brutal campaign of violence and economic deprivation against the descendants of said slaves, the result of which was to keep most blacks in a state of near-peonage, where their opportunities for social and economic advancement were extremely limited. Not to discount the...

Son, You Could Be Trayvon

(Flickr/Albertism)
I’m furious that Trayvon Martin is getting blamed for his own murder. If smoking pot in high school were an executable offense, as the Miami Herald seems to suggest, we would cut the U.S. population by about a third. Add tardiness to the list—again, as the Miami Herald seems to be doing—and I believe we could eliminate Social Security entirely. How was a young man shot and killed and the man who did it still hasn’t been arrested or charged? Does anyone believe for a minute that if things were reversed—if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman—that Martin would be walking around free? (By the way, don’t miss Charles Blow grilling Joe Oliver, George Zimmerman’s acquaintance, on MSNBC; he starts about 8:33 minutes in.) Why, with someone dead, with the evidence of Zimmerman’s past vigilantism and domestic-violence charges and arrests and anger-management courses, with those horrifying 911 tapes, and all the rest, why is the man still walking around free? Look, Zimmerman may not be...

Where Hating Liberals Leads

Case...um...closed?
The Trayvon Martin case is both an individual tragedy and a symbol of a larger problem, the way some people are treated as "suspicious," as George Zimmerman described Martin, and the myriad consequences that suspicion brings. Lots of conservatives don't really think that larger problem is much of a big deal, and apparently, the way they've decided to make that case is by focusing on this individual incident, namely by trying to convince everyone that Trayvon Martin was a no-good punk who had it coming. Dave Weigel informs us that the right-wing blogosphere is alight with pieces attacking the teenager, and "The Drudge Report has become a one-stop shop for Trayvon contrarianism," pushing one article after another about the alleged defects in Martin's character. The conservative web site The Daily Caller obtained and published Trayvon Martin's tweets, for the purpose of ... what, exactly? Showing that he was a teenager and capable of tweeting stupid stuff and therefore demonstrating that...

History Lessons

(Wikipedia)
It’s amazing to me that I would even have to point this out—it should be common knowledge—but one big reason for why the killing of Trayvon Martin has generated so much outrage among African Americans is that it evokes a long history of violence toward black males suspected of criminality. Isabelle Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns —a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the black migration to the North— details a little bit of this history in a column for CNN: No matter the state, the circumstances are eerily familiar: a slaying. Minimal police investigation. A suspect known to authorities. No arrest. Protests and outrage in a racially charged atmosphere. […] In 1920, a white mob burned down the black section of Ocoee, Florida, 30 miles west of Sanford, when two “colored” men tried to vote. The two black men were killed for having gone to the polls. The black people who survived the massacre fled. The town remained all-white for generations. Three years later, a white mob...

Today in Facts About Black People

(Amazon)
The National Review ’s Jonah Goldberg argues that there is a “black upper class bubble” that explains the focus on white racism as a source of ills in the black community: It seems plausible that at least some of these people are as removed from lower class black America as many white commentators are from lower class white America. In that context, I could see how the Trayvon Martin story would hit closer to home than the vastly more numerous tragedies involving black-on-black homicide. […] I also think it’s a lot easier for rich black liberals to have an “honest conversation” about white racism than it is for them to engage in an honest conversation about the other problems facing black America that have little to nothing to do with white racism. The funny thing about this argument is that it reveals the extent to which Goldberg himself isn’t very familiar with the lives of African Americans. Here’s the deal: one result of Jim Crow and its economic disenfranchisement is that the...

The Hoodie

(Flickr/Manic Street Preacher)
You may have already been outraged to hear that Geraldo is blaming the hoodie for Trayvon Martin’s death. Of course he’s wrong. Short skirts don’t rape women; men rape women. Hoodies don’t shoot Skittles-toting teenagers; overzealous neighborhood watch guys shoot teenagers. The blame lies squarely with the rapist or killer, not the victim. And it lies with the racism that keeps getting passed on through our culture, just below the radar. I am regularly appalled when, on family movie night, we watch some children’s movie that friends recommended—and realize that the only African Americans are the bad guys. It makes me sick to my stomach. That instills fear in too many brains and shame in my son’s heart , all about his skin. But watch Geraldo all the way through. He didn’t say that it’s right. He didn’t blame Trayvon Martin for his own death. He gives an impassioned diatribe about what he told his own son, whom he describes as darker-skinned: Do not go outside wearing hoodies. When you...

Geraldo: If You're Black and Wear a Hoodie, Expect to Get Shot

(Wikipedia)
One of the key aspects of rape culture is to place the blame for sexual assault on the women who are attacked, and not the actual rapists. Statements like “You shouldn’t have been wearing that,” and questions like “why were you walking alone,” are all variations on “you were asking for it.” If Geraldo Rivera is any indication , it seems that this logic also applies to violence against black boys: I believe that George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted. But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. [Emphasis mine] On Twitter, he elaborated further, “Trayvon killed by a jerk w[ith] a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop...

Walking While Black

AP File Photo
I’m sick to my stomach about the Trayvon Martin shooting that Jamelle Bouie mentioned here yesterday. Over the weekend, Charles Blow at The New York Times (once again, my favorite columnist) wrote : Trayvon had left the house he and his father were visiting to walk to the local 7-Eleven. On his way back, he caught the attention of George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, who was in a sport-utility vehicle. Zimmerman called the police because the boy looked “real suspicious,” according to a 911 call released late Friday. The operator told Zimmerman that officers were being dispatched and not to pursue the boy. Zimmerman apparently pursued him anyway, at some point getting out of his car and confronting the boy. Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun…. One other point: Trayvon is black. Zimmerman is not. Trayvon was buried on March 3. Zimmerman is still free and has not been arrested or charged with a crime…. As the...

George Zimmerman's Collaborators

Wikipedia
Particularly after Charles Blow devoted his column last week to the subject, the so-far unprosecuted shooting of Trayvon Martin has deservedly gotten a lot of attention. For good reason, much of this attention has focused on Florida's odious 2005 revisions to its law of self-defense. It was entirely predictable that changes to the law eliminating the duty to retreat and permitting the use of deadly force if an individual "reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony" would lead to situations such as the Martin shooting. That is, it was predictable that it would lead to a case in which someone would be getting off scot-free for shooting an unarmed teenager whose only crime appears to be "walking while being African-American in a white suburban neighborhood." Still, it is important to note that this is not quite a case where a bad statute has compelled a tragically...

"Stand Your Ground"

(Eric the Red/Creative Commons)
Like many people, I’ve been following the Trayvon Martin case with sadness and horror. If you’re not aware of the facts of the case, I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blogging on the subject, as well as work from The Huffington Post and The New York Times . While the racial dimensions of the case—a young white man follows a “suspicious-looking” black teenager, confronts him, and kills him in “self-defense”—have garnered national attention, it's worth pointing out the extent to which Florida law has made this kind of vigilante action disturbingly common. Over the last five years, according to the Tampa Bay Times , the number of “justifiable homicides” in Florida has doubled from 40 to 50 at the beginning of the last decade, to upward of a hundred since 2007. The key fact in all of this—and the reason Martin’s shooter isn’t sitting in a jail cell—is Florida’s “stand your ground” legislation, which was signed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. The law gives citizens the right to use deadly force...

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