Looking at Race

A 17-year-old Florida boy walked though a gated community, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain, outraging the country. A recent rally in Naperville called for justice for Trayvon Martin, and the for arrest of George Zimmerman. Director of The Project on Race in Political Communication, and North Central College Professor Stephen Maynard Caliendo, says this crime wasn’t one of a kind.

“It’s not a new thing for a person in a position of authority or quasi-authority to use aggressive force and deadly force against a person of color, a young person of color even,” said Caliendo. “But the fact that the perpetrator has not even been arrested, let alone charged with a crime or indicted or tried, let alone acquitted or convicted, is a part of the problem as well. People are outraged there hasn’t been an arrest.”

Part of the reason there hasn’t been an arrest is Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. It allows Florida residents to use deadly force if they feel endangered in any situation. Zimmerman says he felt threatened by Martin, a black teen wearing his hood up, and shot him.

“As a police officer, I had to go to training and it contained “Shoot, Don’t Shoot,’” said Tyrone Roberts, an Aurora Resident and retired Chicago police officer. “If you’re going to allow these neighborhood watches to be in the neighborhoods then they should have the same kind of training as a police officer.”

But instead, the stereotype that frightened Zimmerman is now a symbol. At marches, and even NBA photoshoots, Americans have been wearing their hoods up to signify that clothing choices and skin color shouldn’t end a life.

“People are feeling that this is not an isolated incident,” said Caliendo. “That not only do these types of things happen, that the idea of stereotyping folks is increasingly problematic.”

“People just don’t treat people fair,” said Bessie Smith, First Vice President of the DuPage County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “They look at the color of your skin and they think, ‘Well, there comes a hoodlum. There’s comes a burglar.’ That’s the first thing they think about us black people and that’s wrong.”

So many agree that across the country, the death of Martin is bringing racial concerns to the forefront of today’s political world.

“This is a pivotal moment in American history and this is a time for our country to really stand up and do what’s right,” said Cindy Sheridan, a Naperville resident.

“The real issues are not just Trayvon Martin, Trayvon Martin is a symbol for what’s been happening for a long time,” said Caliendo “If we’re going to have change, we’re going to have to have meaningful change, not just justice for this one particular victim.”

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