Wednesday, March 21, 2012

fury (if you want real fury, google melissa harris-perry's take on the case)

I had a student last year who lives in the Oakland area, east of the San Francisco Bay. When I'd talked to him a couple of times I started noticing a couple of sentences that he used a lot. "Twenty-five is old where I'm from", was one of them.

For being under 25 (he is 24 now) he had also attended an awful lot of funerals. He would tell me that his friends were "dropping like flies". He's a funny and charming guy, but there is also a lot of sadness about him. He's young, but old.

One of my best friends growing up is a gay man. When we were in our 20s in the 1980s his friends were dropping like flies too. He'd go on trips, and where ever he went there was always a funeral being planned, that he attended. In Stockholm, where he lived, he borrowed a suit for his first couple of burials, but then realized he should just go ahead and buy his own.

I didn't own a funeral dress in my 20s.

AIDS and street violence have given my two friends similar experiences. The two of them have lived with the presence of death in ways that you expect old people to live with death in their lives.

Death comes knocking, and claims a friend. And another. And another. And you wonder, when me? Because that's what you learn when your friends, sibling, contemporaries, die. It could have been me. Why them? When me?

Trayvon Martin, 17, died at the end of February this year, when he was shot in the chest by a self-appointed community watchman, a man who had taken it upon himself to patrol the streets in search of trouble. He came upon Trayvon on night, found him "suspicious looking", followed him in his SUV, confronted him, and shot him to death.

That's one part of the story.

The other part of the story is that the shooter, George Zimmerman, was interviewed by the police following the shooting, claimed self defense, and was released. The police spokesperson said that they had no reason to doubt his story.

If you are a young black man in the US you may get shot by someone who gets scared when they see you. One of my black students was talking about that when he said "I was raised to not go into certain neighborhoods at night because people might get scared when they see me." What he said made little sense to me, and he had to explain it. But I get it now.

If you are a black in the US, and you live in certain areas, you may be going to a lot of funerals. If you are black in the US, you may also find yourself with a dead son, brother, and boyfriend, and a police department who lets his killer go. If I, or any of my white professional friends, were shot point blank, the shooter would not be let go. Even if he, or she, claimed self defense.

Racism is treating people differently because of their race. Institutional racism is having systems built into society, or parts of society, that makes those differences for you.

Austin McLendon is a 13-year-old boy who became a witness to Trayvon's death. The point has been made clear to him. He is not safe. What if someone finds him suspicious looking next time he walks the dog at night?

"If I was like two years older, that could have happened to me," he said.

And, guess what, grown-up America. He's right. The kid is right, and what are you going to do about that?

Here is the clip with Melissa Harris-Perry. Listen for how she says 'skittles' at the end.

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