(The Root) — The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial didn't sadden me. What did was the reaction — largely among but not limited to African Americans — of outrage displayed on social media and in countless protests demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
Please don't misunderstand. As the African-American father of two black boys — one of them 17 years old — I feel greatly for the parents of Trayvon. No person, no matter race or gender, deserves to be stalked and confronted for walking home from a convenience store. And he surely should not end up dead.
The reasons that led Zimmerman to profile Trayvon are complex, as is what led Mark O'Mara, one of Zimmerman's attorneys, to say after the trial that his client would not have been arrested in the case if he were black "because those people who decided that they were going to make him the scapegoat would not have." In other words, the national outcry — even from President Obama — happened only because Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. Conversely, there would not have been a national outcry from the black community, O'Mara suggests, if Zimmerman had been black.
Indeed, a key component of this awful tragedy is the message that our community already delivers to the world: African-American life is cheap. We deliver that message through our everyday collective silence in communities nationwide. Silence in not engaging in a sustained fight to stop the slaughter in our neighborhoods of our young black men. Silence in stonewalling law-enforcement officials when they seek assistance in finding murder suspects. Silence in not letting those outside our community — including Zimmerman juror B-37 — appreciate that every black life is precious.
From 1980 to 2008, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks. During the same time, 84 percent of white homicide victims were killed by other whites. But blacks are disproportionately represented in homicides as both victim and offender. Blacks were six times more likely to be killed than whites and eight times more likely to face homicide-related charges.
Where is the outrage in our community about all of those slain blacks, most of whom were male and a plurality of whom were under 25 years old? Where are the protest demonstrations? Where is our community's message that the ongoing carnage is unacceptable?
Sabiyah Prince, a Washington, D.C.-based anthropologist whose specialty is African-American life and culture and who has worked with community organizations in Harlem and D.C., says that it's easier to garner support when the foe represents power. "In a situation where a child walks to the store and a quasi-law-enforcement person can shoot and kill him and get away with it … that mobilizes people,” Prince says.
It would be nice, Prince says, for community groups to have the numbers of supporters who are speaking out and protesting about the Zimmerman verdict. “It would make it easier to get things accomplished,” she says.
It would also help to communicate to the world that every black life matters. It would help others perceive us as something other than the ridiculous stereotypes too often portrayed in mass media.
Think we're beyond that? Here's what Zimmerman juror B-37 said during an interview Monday evening on CNN: Zimmerman's "heart was in the right place … he went above and beyond what he should have done." The juror said that none of the jurors thought Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon or that race played a role in the tragedy. She believes that Trayvon was the aggressor and that he threw the first punch. Trayvon, she said, "got mad and attacked [Zimmerman]."
Glenn Ivey, a former head prosecutor in Prince George's County, Md., and former federal prosecutor now in private practice, says the message that blacks are confronting violence in our neighborhoods is not being communicated now because the African-American community has become desensitized to killings.
"Our reluctance to take on homicides in our community is a mistake that we have to fight against," Ivey says. "We need to strive to make sure that everyone inside and outside our community understands that the killing of our people cannot be tolerated, regardless of whether the killer is black, white or any race."
This is not an either-or situation. Black communities need to find a way to muster the same emotions over the slaughter happening around us and by us. We should not rely on media attention to galvanize us. And we have to be willing to confront and bear witness against those in our communities who use violence. When and if we do, that message will get out.
Keith Harriston is a former reporter and editor at the Washington Post, where he covered public safety policy. He teaches journalism at Howard University, where he edits hunewsservice.com.