This opinion piece was written by JFCY volunteer and PLE Team member Cemone Morlese. The opinions expressed are Cemone’s and not necessarily those of JFCY.
The Trayvon Martin case has gained international attention from average people, to celebrities to even the President, himself. At its core is the victim, 17 year-old Trayvon, shot and killed in Sanford, Floridaand the man who shot him, Neighbourhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. What has taken me by surprise is just how quickly the story spread and turned into a difficult, but important debate over many hot-button issues.
One of the biggest discussions surrounds the issue of profiling. The case hinges on the claim by Zimmerman that he felt “threatened” by Trayvon Martin and needed to protect himself. But what was it that made him feel this threat? Trayvon was a Black teenager wearing a hoodie. Did Trayvon’s race play a factor in the perception of him as a threat? Racial profiling is not a new notion, especially in the United States, but the belief was that incidents of racial profiling were becoming less and less frequent. This shooting makes many wonder how often Black youth are still being misperceived as “dangerous” simply because of their race in today’s society. Another factor that may have led to Trayvon Martin being seen as a threat was his clothing.
Are teenage boys who wear hoodies assumed to be dangerous to the general public? This seems outrageous, but I can’t help but wonder I too fall victim to this assumption. If I’m walking alone late one night and I see someone behind me, I honestly would be a little more afraid if the person behind me is in dark clothes and a hoodie rather than a business suit. Sad, but true. Also, the media plays a part by showing countless movies and TV shows portraying youth dressed in hoodies and oversized clothing causing trouble and committing crimes.
That being said, thinking someone looks suspicious and shooting and killing someone because they look suspicious are two completely different things. Perhaps this is the reason for the public outcry in the Trayvon Martin case; a sense of injustice because a teenage boy was killed because he apparently looked threatening. What angered even more people was the fact it didn’t appear George Zimmerman would even be brought to trial for the shooting. The “Stand Your Ground” laws seem to protect his actions as long as he could prove he truly believed his life was threatened. However, recently he was charged with 2nd degree murder.
So, where do we go from here? The Martin family and their supporters rallied for justice and now charges have been laid. With these new charges, my biggest fear is that the case, and more specifically the important issues it brings up, will be forgotten.
The Trayvon Martin case has special importance to me because my brother is a 17 years-old Black teenager who likes to wear hoodies. For the first time, I began to really think about how other people perceive my brother every day. Is their first impression of him a negative one? I hope not. Nevertheless, discussions about profiling, the origins of beliefs about race and appearance and why such beliefs persist must continue in order to prevent another case like this from happening again.