Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Peck of Owls ~ Trayvon Martin, Profiling and Sterotypes

Here's our next owl in our month of learning what we can do about racism. This one is from Jolinda. 

You've probably heard a lot about the murder of Trayvon Martin. If you're really following the case, much of what you've heard probably disagrees with other things that you've heard. This case is huge news precisely because there is so many aspects to it. I want to concentrate on just two - profiling and stereotyping. Even then. This will be a long owl.

Let me start out with a story that happened to me about 20 years ago when my car was profiled. And it was my car that was profiled, not me. I lived in the inner city and I bought an old Cougar. 

It looked something like this: 
The two big differences were that it was silver and it had dark tinted windows. I loved that car. It was very comfortable and it ran well. Now, the police believed that people who drove that car were all teen-aged African American males who were criminals. That's profiling.

I never had a problem driving in the daytime because the police could look in the window and see that I was a middle aged white woman. Night was a different story. Every single time I drove that car after dark I was stopped. The police used their sirens, shone the spotlight on my mirror so that I couldn't see and used the loudspeaker to order me to keep my hands on the wheel. 

It was always very tense until they got up to the window and they could see that I didn't fit their stereotype, their profile. If I had turned out to be a 17 year old young man on my way to the library, things would have continued to be very tense. They would have continued to believe that he was a criminal on the basis of the car he drove. 

Police are constantly getting information crimes, along with descriptions of suspects. It is not unusual for police to decide that a person they have stopped may be the suspect and arrest them. At the time my car was being profiled African American drivers where I lived were 16 times more likely to be stopped and 20 times more likely to be arrested than white drivers. 

I want you to understand that they had no right to stop me and they would have had no right to stop a 17 year old driving that car. They always made up excuses, ones that are hard to disprove, such as not coming to a complete stop before turning. 

Remember that the man who killed Trayvon was not a police officer and it appears that the officers on the scene did what they were supposed to do. It was their bosses who decided to release George Zimmerman who admitted to killing him. However, Zimmerman followed him because he had profiled him as a possible criminal and he was working with the police as a Block Watch member.

You can tell that I'm very opposed to using stereotypes or prejudging people. Yet, we all do it. We use our experiences and what we've been taught to help us decide what to do. We do it every day. 

When is it helpful to make decisions based on stereotypes or past experience and when do we need to get more information? What does a person's skin color actually tell us about that person? How about what they are wearing? How about where they are? 

Let's all do a little experiment on ourselves. Let's be aware in the coming week what we immediately assume about people we don't know. You can reply to this email with what you find out or bring it to the next Harry Potter Justice Sunday.

Wyclef Jean's Reggae Rap about Trayvon  

"Justice (If You're 17)" is available for download for free today here The music video should be released on April 20th.

Here's some of the lyrics:

"If you're 17/And you're wearing a hoodie/You're on the phone/Talking to your shorty/Make no mistake/There's one like you/In every city/You know the story," and later continues with, "If you're 17 with a hoodie on/ Watch out for the neighborhood watcher/ If you're at the right neighborhood at the wrong time/ Neighborhood watcher/ This might be your last call to your girlfriend/ The neighborhood watcher/ Man I feel for you if you're 17."

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