As popular as statements like these are this week, I’d have a hard time chiming in with writers like Chauncey DeVega — who said that the vicious murder of Trayvon Martin shows that even in modern America, “black people’s citizenship and humanity are forever questionable.” America has come a long way since lynching and the Scottsboro Boys.
Still, police brutality and insensitivity against blacks remain, as I have often argued, the main obstacle to racial healing in this country. I analogize it to a chimney left standing amid the smoking ruins of a house. No one sees the chimney as evidence that the fire never happened.You judge yourself by the quality of your critics. It would seem that I am moving up to a more exclusive neighborhood. My apartment is rent controlled; the lease is up tomorrow. But for now, I will enjoy the view.
Yet we can’t rebuild till we get that chimney torn down.
John McWhorter offered up a smart and quite incisive piece about the murder of Trayvon Martin in today's edition of the New York Daily News. His lede? a kind mention of me, "Chauncey DeVega." I have at times disagreed with Dr. McWhorter's opinions regarding folks such as Herman Cain, as well as black cultural politics, more generally. However, I have a deep respect for his thinking and argumentation.
The whole essay is worth reading, but one part especially merits further discussion. Here, McWhorter works through the "what if?" Trayvon were white and Zimmerman were black by alluding to the 2006, John White case in New York:
The fashionable line is that the Sanford cops went easy on Zimmerman because Trayvon was black. Certainly, we are told, if Zimmerman were black and had killed a white kid, he would have been hauled off to jail, no questions asked.
But do we know that? The Sanford police would deny it and insist that Zimmerman is free because of the Stand Your Ground law.
It is this law that stands as something concretely addressable. In fact, it even lends itself to the alternate-case racial scenario that so many are applying to the Zimmerman-Trayvon clash.
New Yorkers will recall the case of John White.
White, a black man in his 50s, came out into his Long Island driveway on an August 2006 night to confront white teenagers who had come onto his property making threats against his 19-year-old son, Aaron, including ones to kill him. There had been an argument at a party, related to a woman.
White was carrying a gun. In a scuffle between White and 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro, when Cicciaro grabbed for White’s gun, White fired. The shot killed Cicciaro.
White said that he did not intend to kill the boy. He claimed, reasonably, to have feared for his life and/or that of his son. Yet he was sentenced to two to four years in prison. Then-Gov. David Paterson commuted his sentence after five months in 2010.
White stood his ground — albeit in a state without a law by that name on the books — and went to the slammer.
And now we have Zimmerman and his claim to have stood his ground.
What counter-factuals or "what if?" scenarios have you come up with regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin? What alternate variables can we entertain, ones that reveal more than they would potentially obscure?