March 29, 2012

Hoodie Prejudice

The tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death has captured me.

We were introduced to this story as a hate crime. George Zimmerman, a Latino man who heads up his neighborhood's volunteer watch program called the police to report a suspicious individual in his neighborhood, Trayvon Martin.

The neighborhood had recently suffered a rash of burglaries, and Zimmerman was hot on the trigger. He called the police to report, started following the individual on foot despite the 911 operator's insistence he shouldn't, and the story ends with an unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin lying dead from a fatal gunshot wound.

The moral we were told to take from this tragedy was to stop being prejudicially suspicious of black youth.

The mere idea that Trayvon "appeared" suspicious was troubling to us all. That the mere presence of a young black man in a hoodie would warrant a police call. That, if we were being honest with ourselves, we might also pause unsettled and take another look at Trayvon Martin if we noticed him walking through our neighborhood.

It was a convicting story.

And then, the story kept unfolding.

It still is.

It turns out Travyon Martin may not be altogether innocent. He may have escalated the incident, attacked Zimmerman and beaten his head repeatedly against the curb before being shot,  as a lone eyewitness seems to corroborate.

And whether or not you deem it relevant, it appears Travyon may have a troubling past. School suspensions for drug (residue) possession, vandalism and possession of theft implements.

Does his short rap sheet make his death any less tragic? No.

But, the issue here is stereotype.

The moral we were told was that television and the media have corrupted us all into prejudicing young black youth into the same scary bucket. We were told this prejudice was without merit, and to magically stop being suspicious of fictitious fears our culture has wrongly ingrained within us.

And now what do we do with this new information? This unfortunate example that builds up the very stereotype this story initially led us to fight against?

Perhaps our society/media/culture has indeed wrongly influenced us into our expectations of a young black man wearing a hoodie.

But, is Trayvon Martin immune to that cultural rub-off? Or is there a part of him who willingly chose to embrace that identity? Who found strength in it. Power in it.

That's the issue I'm stuck on.

And I think we need a Cosby episode about it.