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Blog: Trayvon Martin, the Verdict, and Black America

By Ronnie Agnew, HT.com blogger

The Travon Martin story is every black man’s story.

That there is surprise at Black America’s reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict is indicative of the racial divide that continues to hurt this great country. Black America’s battle to control its collective rage right now is perfectly understandable and justified. There is shock. There is anger. There is frustration with a Florida legal system with restrictions that essentially allowed a wannabe cop to walk free after shooting to death an unarmed teenager holding a bag of Skittles.

While some in America feel it’s time to move on, they won’t get that chance. Nor should they. The Trayvon Martin case is in indictment on America’s constitutionally protected right to come and go as one pleases.

The teenager’s story is every black man’s story, from the professor at the Ivy League school who looked suspicious, to the shopper perusing the tie rack in a shopping mall, followed by an overzealous store clerk. It is impossible for those in the dominant culture to comprehend the feeling that, as a black man, successful or not, there is always the threat of unfair treatment.

It is a feeling that is always there. It is not to suggest that black men consider themselves victims, but in this environment that is exactly how they are sometimes made to feel.

God help us if a teenager wearing a hoodie, or whatever today’s fashion-conscious kids want to wear, can’t go to the store for snacks without fear of being followed and profiled. If George Zimmerman had not played the uninvited role of police officer, Trayvon Martin would have made it home and this would never have become a story.

The incredibly insensitive defense attorneys, who embarrassed themselves in their news conference after the verdict with open displays of arrogance and cockiness, used Florida technicalities to win the case. They won a case, but in their legal victory, there is also defeat.

They successfully defended a man with an inability to let the police do their job after he called 911 to report the emergency of a black teen simply walking down the street. He inserted himself into Martin’s life, and that very fact led to the teenager’s death.

If the teen did fight back, how is he different from anyone facing a similar threat? Who among us would not have reacted in a defensive posture when we clearly see that some stranger is following us? That makes the question of which person was the aggressor moot and irrelevant. Scared and cornered, who could blame the kid if he believed he was in danger?

The Justice Department’s decision to reopen the case is a wise one regardless of outcome. The Florida jury made its decision based on tight guidelines its members were allowed to consider. I will never fault a jury for making a tough decision. But this story will live on because of America’s continuing struggle to make sense of race, and citizens who feel they are targets based on unfounded biases.

Ronnie Agnew, a former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. He is a 1984 journalism graduate of Ole Miss. In 2008, Ronnie was named the 50th recipient of the Silver Em award presented by the journalism school. In 2003, he was inducted into the University of Mississippi’s Alumni Hall-of-Fame. Among many honors, Ronnie is a four-time judge for the Pulitzer Prize, and a champion for diversity in America’s newsrooms.


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