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Trayvon Martin Shooting Exposes Pattern — Blacks Are Targets in America

Updated on February 1, 2022
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Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, and journalist with background experience in classical music performance and composition.


The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on 26 February 2012 by a white "Neighborhood Watch" vigilante sparked national outrage at the time. But underlying that outrage is a continuing perception that the problem doesn't involve just that single case — on the contrary, say many critics, it's about the pervasive racism of American society and the intrinsic racist oppression of the black population.

Some leftist critics of American society argue that the black population of the USA are largely treated as a reserve, marginally useful but also expendable, low-wage workforce and underclass by those who rule this country and this system. According to the radical left paper Workers Vanguard,

The daily reality of racist oppression can be measured in astronomical unemployment rates for blacks and decrepit ghetto housing; rampant police terror and the consignment of nearly one million black men and women to America’s hellhole prisons, mainly due to the “war on drugs”; prison-like inner-city schools and the purge of black youth from higher education. ... Contrary to the myth promoted by Obama and other liberals, black oppression continues to be the central defining feature of U.S. society. It is materially rooted in and central to American capitalism.

This system, critics assert, nurtures the mindset that creates the "kill at will" behavior and the "shoot-first-ask-questions-later" laws like the one that supposedly "authorized" the murder of Trayvon Martin. This "deadly police terror" is "a fact of life for black people in racist America" emphasizes Workers Vanguard — and, as Trayvon's case illustrates, it also nurtures semi-official violence such as George Zimmerman's vigilante-style Neighborhood Watch shooting of Trayvon.

Trayvon Martin (left); George Zimmerman (right)
Trayvon Martin (left); George Zimmerman (right) | Source

“Open Season” on Black Males

The killing of this black youth, in the gated townhome complex where he was staying, was unleashed by a so-called "Stand Your Ground" law, passed in 2005, and intended (through wink and nudge subtext) to empower white bigots to blow away blacks at their whim. As numerous critics, mostly on the radical left, have pointed out, these kinds of both official and semi-official "hunt-and-kill" murders of blacks are most of all given the nod by the increasingly overt racism promulgated by today's prominent Tea Party and GOP leaders, with the complicity of the the top echelons of U.S. society, including leading Democrats.

"While the country is in the midst of a national uproar around the shooting death of Sanford, Fla. youth Trayvon Martin, and the failure to arrest his killer, George Zimmerman, deadly assaults against Black men are occurring all over the country — in cities big and small" emphasized black national urban affairs columnist Anthony Samad, Ph.D., writing at the time in the Los Angeles Wave community newspaper.

It's an “open season” on black males, warned Samad, "but when has it ... not been?"

The problem is that the best of Black men look like the worst of Black men, and the public — most acutely, law enforcement — have gotten tired of trying to sort out the difference. Black men are viewed as public menaces, public threats and suspicious characters whether they’re in hoodies or tuxedos, as activist Van Jones said when queried for suggestions on how to protect Black males.

"We used to teach our boys how to act around trigger-happy police" noted Samad, but to what effect?

Police have always been trigger happy when it came to Black males. There are no more “accidental shootings” and “isolated instances” outside those that involve Black men. “Death by cop” is right up there with accidental drownings and other casualties Black people suffer from disproportionately. Police are an occupational hazard in the Black community.

Evidence: Pattern of Violence Toward Blacks

Empirical evidence backs up this pattern of violence targeting the black population. The All Psychology Careers website cites studies involving "thousands of community members, including police officers" which suggest that "People generally are more likely to shoot a Black armed or unarmed target, than a White target. And they are faster at shooting armed Blacks than armed Whites."

The article points out that such research has exposed "unintentional behaviors, or behaviors based on underlying racial biases that most people don't realize they possess." Excluding some fringe groups that overtly embrace racist or supremacist attitudes, notes the analysis, while most people may claim they're not prejudiced or racist, "What they don't realize ... is that implicit biases still reside unconsciously within their cognitive processes."

Even some black police representatives acknowledge the problem of racial profiling that targets black people. For example, in a 2009 interview broadcast on the Voice of America, Charles Wilson, head of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, admitted that, all too frequently, "police stop, question, or arrest people based on their skin color rather than real evidence."

"The institution of policing is and always has been inherently biased against people of color and low income, and you must accept that as a fact" Wilson emphasized to the interviewer.

This pervasive pattern of racial "profiling" is corroborated in other research. The All Psychology Careers article cites a 2008 University of Illinois at Chicago finding that "Black and Hispanic drivers are stopped at a much higher rate than Whites." Furthermore, the study found,

...of those stopped and who consent to being searched for drugs or other forms of contraband, minorities are searched at a higher rate than Whites. However, police officers conducting consent searches are far more likely to find contraband in a vehicle driven by a Caucasian driver than by a minority driver.

Another, albeit anecdotal, perspective of what appears to be a persistent and extensive pattern of official violence directed toward the black minority of the country — especially, the use of deadly force against unarmed black civilians — is rendered by the results of Google searches on keyword phrases like "police violence targets blacks" and "white cops shoot blacks". Here are example web stories returned just within the first three pages:

Critics demand action on disproportionate shootings of blacks

Stories of 15 black men killed by police since 1995

When Police Shoot And Kill Unarmed Men

White-On-Black Murder In The New Millennium Is Rampant

10 Tips for Black Men to Survive Police Encounters

West Memphis, Arkansas: Police Killing of 12-Year-Old DeAunta Terrell Farrow

Why Do Cops Like To Kill Blacks? (Sean Bell, Diallo Amadou)

Austin Police shoot and kill 2 black men - YouTube

Protest says police killed dozens of unarmed Black men

Seven Black Men Killed in Eight Months Has Miami Police in Hot Water

Killings of 7 Black Men Put Miami Police in Spotlight

Why Do Cops Like to Kill Black People?

Police Shoot Dead Unarmed Black Man on Oakland Train Platform

Another Year, Another Unarmed Black Man Killed by Police

College Freshman Killed by Campus Police

NYPD Officers Shoot and Kill Three Black Men in One Week

Why White Cops Kill Black Cops: Debate over Edwards’ Dead Body

Between the Lines: Keeping young Black men safe, in the age of Kendrec and Trayvon

Historic Momentum for Black Lives Matter

This pervasive pattern of official (and semi-official) intimidation and oppression of America's black population — particularly of its black youth and young black men — helped fuel national uproar over the deadly shooting of Trayvon Martin. That was reinforced by the specific outrageous details of this case ... including the eventual absolution, by authorities and Florida's criminal justice system, of the acknowledged killer, George Zimmerman, from any criminal responsibility for gunning down this youth.

Many activists and critics on the left insisted at the time that the upswell of mass outrage (black and multi-color in character) must not focus merely on an act of individual racially tinted murder. Rather, it needed to target the racist culture that continues to permeate American society and the specific policies and the system that foster this racist environment. That consciousness was eventually to bear fruit in the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement soon afterward.

Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, freelance investigative journalist and analyst, and consultant. His blog is:

Originally published: 2012/04/07. Revised: 2022/01/30.


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