During his concise lifetime, Malcolm X once said to the following at a rally held within the Nations of Islam: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” Upon the release of this statement, many of his detractors in the press harshly accused X of subliminally targeting the federal government, promoting violence, racial intolerance, and spewing hatred throughout the United States, especially in regards to White America. However, if you were to carefully examine the excerpt taken from X and decipher its true meaning, you will surely discover that its highly combatant context was the least bit aimed at White America. X certainly implied that he vowed to send his white disparagers he viewed as enemies to the grave, but in actuality X did not acknowledge who exactly his enemies were. It may have been White America. It may have been Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. It may have possibly been the Black Panther Party headed by urban activists, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. To this day, we don’t know for sure who X was referring to in his aggressive rant, but if anything is for certain his words were simply directed towards anyone willing to afflict harm, rival, or undermine X and the Nations of Islam.
Malcolm X preached that self-defense was an essential component for African Americans trying to surviving in segregated American society of the 1960s. During this period of racial inequality and intense prejudice, African American citizens witnessed their communities and homes crumble by the hands of white supremacists, they were divided amongst other American ethnicities when local government implemented segregated institutions, public transportation and eating establishments, they were victims of excessive hate crimes and lastly, if they retaliated they were either subject to immediate arrest without a fair trial or physically brutalized by police officers or bystanders. Malcolm X emphasized self-defense chiefly because he was highly discontent with the efforts of the nonviolent protests and sit-in strikes implemented by Martin Luther King. X wanted change to transpire overnight and felt that the Nations of Islam would have to push for its reforms by any means necessary. Despite passage of time, the proclamation of Civil Rights Act in 1968, America still finds itself in a racial dilemma especially in regards to discrimination and self-defense.
In present day America, it has been approximately two years since Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida on Feb 26, 2012. Martin, a 17-year-old African American resident from Miami Gardens, FL will forever be known as a subject of racial profiling, and sadly a renowned victim of lethal fatality that dark evening at the Twin Lakes Retreat complex. Had he lived, Martin would have turned 19 this February, and most likely would have graduated atop of his class at Krop High School with career aspirations in aviation given his flawless academic record. Martin’s ninth grade teacher who taught him three classes pertaining to Aerospace Technology at the Baker Aviation School described Martin as a “normal well-behaved student” who passed all of his classes with flying colors. Martin was not without his flaws, but like any high school student he experienced various growing pains. Martin was caught on several occasions with a marijuana pipe and cannabis residue on his person for which he served a 10-day suspension in 2011. Aside from drug possession, Martin was also suspended twice for tardiness, minor vandalism to school property, and lastly, truancy. Despite his mishaps, Martin was never charged with anything crime-related and therefore did not have a juvenile record. A boy no younger than myself, Martin had an entire lifetime ahead of him.
On the evening of Feb. 26, Martin traveled to a local convenience store to purchase candy and juice for his brother. As Martin returned from the store, Zimmerman spotted the young man from afar who contacted the Sanford Police reporting a suspicious individual. According to Sanford police reports, Zimmerman believed Martin was armed in which he described the suspect as a no good punk carrying a loaded weapon concealed beneath the waistband of his pants. Feeling unsafe and startled, Martin opted to run away which eventually led to Zimmerman leaving his vehicle after he told the Sanford Police Martin was fleeing the scene. Moments later, there was an altercation between the two individuals in which Martin, who was unarmed from the beginning, was fatally shot in the chest. Upon the arrival of the first Sanford crime unit led by Police Officer Timothy Smith and Sgt. Anthony Raimondo at 7:17 p.m. experts concluded that there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and that Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law prohibited law enforcement officials from arresting or charging him. Zimmerman was eventually charged in Martin’s death in which led to a grand jury acquitting him of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in July 2013.
Upon the acquittal of Zimmerman, the American public was unanimously appalled, especially the African American community. Reverend Al Sharpton and former Rainbow Coalition luminary, Jesse Jackson were outraged by the results of the jury addressing the weak prosecution led by district attorney, Angela Corey, and the jurors selected by Judge Debra Nelson. Director, Spike Lee even tweeted the street address of George Zimmerman in an attempt for radical detractors to discover him.
In the aftermath of the recent controversial Michael Dunn verdict, communities across the country have once again been steeped in profuse anxiety. Despite that Dunn was convicted of 4 out of the 5 counts and previously faced several decades in prison, the fact of the matter remains to be seen that he was not convicted for the murder of Jordan Davis which has yet again exposed how the deep wound of racism continues to infect our country, particularly the state of Florida. While some may claim at least a partial victory in that Dunn will be spending a significant amount of time behind bars, there is still a palpable distrust, among African Americans including those in Duval County, of the criminal justice system. While some are hopeful that Dunn will be retried, there is still the ever-present feeling that the wound of racism coupled with the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law work together to nurture an environment in which it’s “open season” on young men of color. People of color in Florida will remain locked into a perpetual state of fear unless there is a concerted effort to heal the wounds of racism by eliminating all of Florida’s Stand Your Ground policies. Communities cannot truly flourish economically, politically, and spiritually until those wounds are treated.
One of the daily consequences of this festering racial wound is that parents throughout Florida are living in constant fear that their sons or grandsons will be the next mediated victim of manslaughter, homicide, or murder. Mothers and grandmothers live in fear that a young black man who dares to don dreadlocks will automatically be considered a “thug” and, therefore, subject to suspicion, arrest, and possibly even violence. They worry that a black child who happens to be relatively large in stature might, therefore, on that basis be deemed a threat as if being black and big is a provocation. No longer can young men of color act in any way that could be construed, in the wildest of imaginations, to pose a possible confrontation with society; indeed, the unreasonable type of hyper-vigilance that is often absurdly expected of young people of color begs whether such an existence permits them to be kids, let alone secure human beings, in the first place.
The fact that young men of color are now forced to walk the streets in fear of being murdered is a rueful reflection of the fact that we live in an environment that devalues black and brown lives, as indicated by the disproportionate amount of minorities who are targeted by police agencies and the disproportionate amount of minorities who are disfranchised. But this environment isn’t an abstract self-subsisting reality that created itself; no, there are various forces at play that have created and that maintain this environment. And there are powerful human beings who construct and maintain policies that ensure that young people of color will live in constant fear.
Complicit in this environment is Florida’s Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet, which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi, who have played a key role in consolidating the power of Stand Your Ground policy to strike fear into communities on a daily basis. Scott gave this Stand Your Ground environment a big pat on the back, but to throw salt on our deep racial wounds in Florida, these powerful architects and stewards of Stand Your Ground laws have turned their backs on persistent attempts by people of color to work with them. When leading elected officials help to perpetuate criminalization and devaluation of minorities, Scott brazenly disrespects our black elected officials, and when Bondi refuses to sit down with clergy to discuss the current clemency policy and its harmful impacts on our communities, it becomes clearer than ever who wants the wounds to remain.
Scott and Bondi, despite knowing that their clemency policies disproportionately impact African Americans, still insist on being puppets for the private prison industry, and they continue to ignore the cries of minority communities and clergy. By turning their backs on communities of color time and time again, they have amply demonstrated that they have no interest in healing the wounds which have historically afflicted the American people. As the 13 million-member organization Christian Churches Together recently stated:
“The legacy of the dehumanization of people of color has borne lasting effects in current-day society. These effects are perhaps most acutely experienced by our African-American brothers and sisters who were deemed non-human “chattel” by law in the days of antebellum slavery and whose human equality was challenged by the Jim Crow system of subjugation.”
As long as the Stand Your Ground act remains in effect, the wound of racism and discrimination will only deepen and invite disease. Florida will continue to signal to the masses that it’s still “open season” to harm people of color. If the governor and his cabinet are not interested in being a part of the healing process then its people shouldn’t sit by idly in 2014. The state must unite and prepare themselves to take massive and unrelenting action to remove policies that, taken together, maintain their status as second-class citizens and moving targets. Florida must work to dismantle policies that strip away civil and voting rights, policies which disproportionately channel children of color into the school to prison pipeline, and the broken “war on drugs” which disproportionately targets and imprisons people of color. If the people are serious about building safe communities and preventing future tragedies like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, then the masses must figuratively “stand their ground” and find resolution. The time for healing is not tomorrow or next year. The time for healing is now.
Drew Mattiola is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.