Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Race to the Bottom

By Ernesto Alvarado

Iced tea and skittles. It's impossible to remember how many times those items have been on a shopping list that my friends and I would assemble before jumping on our bikes and heading to the store. We always acknowledged but ignored the glaring eyes of the employee at the counter, it was a reality for us. This isn't about why life is the way it is.

I also can't count how many times I've had to deal with overzealous police officers, security guards, and other authority figures that felt it their responsibility to re-establish my place in a racial hierarchy regardless of my true background. This isn't about those flashing lights in the rearview mirror.

Trayvon Martin takes a braincell and sits in the section reserved for "racial killings/injustices"in my mind. It's chalked full of cautionary tales I heard as a child, of those that made me resentful of authority figures, of those heroic stands that ended only with the blood of the civil rights martyrs, and of those statistics that haunted me growing up. This isn't an obituary for them nor is it a callous overview of the "deja vu" I felt when I heard of the Trayvon Martin story.

Most importantly, this is not about race.

Trayvon Martin's story doesn't receive its impact from the fact that he is black (this does thicken the plot). Trayvon's death is of such importance because its a story of a helpless child being gunned down by a faux authority figure with a gun. The simplistic yet joyful exuberance of his life is so well embodied by his final possessions on Earth, skittles and an iced tea, that we are all reminded at how fragile life is and how it can so easily be taken away. This is about a child being killed. From initial accounts, he was running for his life before it was taken from him by an aggressor with a gun. His frantic phone calls to friends were his last words spoken, a panic that would consume anyone running for their lives regardless of race.

This story doesn't gain its principle notoriety from the shooter's identity. Whether he would've been White, Black, Latino, or Asian, his race is null but the fact that a grown man can attempt to justify the killing of a 17 year old unarmed boy as "self-defense"is what boils the blood. A man, that has had an aggressive trend towards his watch dog duties and actively pursued Trayvon before shooting him is what the issue needs to be. No one will ever truly be able to grasp the thought process of the shooter nor will they ever be able to prove that his pinpointing of Trayvon was racially motivated, no matter how fitting the explanation may be.

This story isn't about the police chief, who knew the thunderous crash of racial divisions that this case would take once the shooter was allowed back home. The police chief's role in this is his lack of exact questioning of his police officers who have had a questionable past in dealing with minorities and other violent cases. The correction of witnesses and the seemingly favorable police report towards the shooter should be the focal point of an investigation into a police station that failed to meet protocol. Had Trayvon been the shooter or the watchdog been black, maybe things would be different but we are only left with the details of the situations and not hypothetical situations.

The activists have begun to organize and give a voice to the growing masses demanding justice for Trayvon Martin and his family. Race, however, cannot be a rallying call for the supporters of this cause. Race, especially in America, has a way of dividing people like not many other things can in a nation based on unitary ideals. Race scares people. Race can isolate those that believe they have nothing at stake in a racially based shooting. Turn the discussion into a shooting of a young 17 year old boy on his way back from 7-11 by a maniac with a you have people's attention.

As a minority, the race card tends to blind us to more crucial pieces of evidence. It simplifies our argument to one sole point that can often be muted by counterpoints based on legal jargon. Race is a definite factor and can reinforce certain aspects of the appeals for action but we must avoid making it the backbone of this movement towards justice. Merely using race as a argument will tune out many and enable the few to dismiss the complaints as based on emotion rather than logic. We can't afford to allow this to happen in the case of the murdered 17 year old in Florida. This story is about the murder of a boy at the hands of a man who chased him down, struggled, and shot him. This story is about the insufficient adherence to the protocol by the Police Department in their initial and follow-up investigations. This story is about a man who displayed signs of aggression that made his neighbors nervous and ignored orders to stop chasing a boy by a Police dispatcher.

 This is a story about justice with a chapter of racial tensions in America. But most importantly, the Trayvon Martin movement will not be a story that recollects the past events, but will tell the story of how all creeds unified in a call to action and justice.

This will be the story of Trayvon Martin. It won't be about how blacks and minorities ranted against a racist white establishment that has been retold before. This path will discuss race and motives. But for us, the most important race in our dialogue must be the one we must run towards justice so that we can ensure that Trayvon's death was not in vain.

For now, we must continue to fight and acknowledge the sad fact that Skittles will never taste as sweet again. 

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