POLITICS

Trayvon Martin And 2013 Revealed Harsh Reality Of Racism In America

01/01/2014 09:11 am 09:11:50 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

WASHINGTON -- For Verdis Daniels Jr., the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer in 2013 showed that maybe America hasn't come so far since Daniels was an academic star at Texas' Nacogdoches High School in 1976.

That year, Daniels scored so well on the PSAT that the local newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, featured him in a photo with his counselor and an assistant principal. A few weeks later, police ended Daniels' educational hopes by arresting him on charges of robbing an elderly woman. The teenager happened to share one characteristic with the actual mugger, who was described as several inches taller and wearing different clothing: skin color.

Daniels, who was walking home from his dishwasher job at the upscale Hotel Fredonia near Nacogdoches City Hall, was not physically harmed like Martin, but he was targeted for the same reasons -- he was a young, black man who looked suspicious to a white man. The acquittal of Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Martin's killing reminded many African-Americans that those reasons endure.

And 2013 -- the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington to declare his dream -- brought with it other reminders of the nation's ongoing struggle with racial inequality. Besides the Martin case, the Supreme Court nullified a key provision of 1965's Voting Rights Act -- one of King's landmark victories. The decision added fuel to a surge of voter identification laws that generally suppress minority voting.

After the Zimmerman verdict, President Barack Obama reflected on the discrimination that many African-Americans still feel. Martin, Obama said, could have been his son. The president recalled how when he was younger and not famous, people sitting in cars would lock their doors at the sight of a young black man walking down the street. The people in their automobiles may not have thought their actions betrayed racism or prejudice, yet the youthful Obama knew he posed no threat, so their instincts to seal themselves behind steel and glass stemmed from baseless fear.

Supporters of George Zimmerman chose to deny the truth of that experience, and said the shooting of Trayvon Martin had nothing to do with race, although the teen was black. Supporters of voter I.D. laws -- nearly all Republican-backed -- say such legislation has nothing to do with race, although they admit it is partisan and the people in the other party are disproportionately Latino and black.

Supporters of both insist racism is mostly over in America, pointing to that Supreme Court decision. Their advice was "Get over it."

So, The Huffington Post reached out to black Americans like Verdis Daniels (also the congressmen in the above video), and asked them to share daily experiences on the wrong side of racial interactions, from casual, unthinking slights to more deliberate discrimination.

In Daniels' case, the racism appears to be of the more deliberate, pre-Civil Rights Act variety that was common in Texas in 1976.

The police chief, M.C. Roebuck, had lost civil rights cases in federal court by then and was looked on with fear in the black community. The "colored" jail had only recently been closed. People still knew whose office in the stationhouse used to be the colored bathroom.

Daniels recalled how he was ensnared in the legal system, walking home from the dishwasher job he had landed recently to put a little spending money in his pocket. It was just two weeks after his picture ran in the Daily Sentinel for being named a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, a feat that flagged him as an academic up-and-comer in the East Texas community. He still has the newspaper photo of him smiling with his mentors. But that night, someone who didn't resemble Daniels knocked down an elderly white woman and snatched her purse. An officer arrested the then-17-year-old, and threw him in jail, despite the different description.

"Nothing matched at all," said Daniels, who instead of capitalizing on his high test score and preparing to apply for college, had to prepare a criminal defense. "During the time when applications were supposed to come in, I was in limbo," Daniels said. "I didn't know what was going to happen to me."

A civil rights lawyer recently arrived from the Northeast, Martha McCabe, championed his case.

"The police were ridiculous," McCabe recalled, singling out the chief, Roebuck. "He thought that his mission from the merchants of Nacogdoches was to suppress and oppress the black population," she said. "Really, the black population lived under a certain kind of martial law."

The district attorney at the time, David Adams, decided to prosecute the case, putting it in the hands of a deputy who McCabe recalled as "snarly and straight-up racist."

Daniels had the good fortune of facing his charges at the end of an era. Roebuck was near retirement and Adams did not run for reelection. The new DA, Herb Hancock, took over in 1977, and didn't think much of the case. McCabe remembered a reaction she got from him several times when she represented clients who didn't merit prosecution.

"He used to say, 'Oh it's just another case of felony dumb-ass and the young stupids, and I'm not gonna pursue it.' That was music to my ears," McCabe said.

Daniels isn't bitter about the derailment. He went on to the Air Force instead of college, and said life has turned out well for him. "My story turned out a whole lot better than it could have done," he said.

But he still tries to stay away from Nacogdoches, even though his mother lives there. And he still feels the daily sting of unthinking prejudice, which college and higher degrees would not have fixed.

About two years before Daniels achieved his high test scores, a young woman from Youngstown, Ohio, named Kim Akins did similarly well. She won scholarships and was accepted to nearly every college where she applied. Now 55, Akins went on to become a lawyer, and for several years, an assistant prosecutor in Youngstown Municipal Court.

She never ran afoul of the law, but her experience of prejudice is no less constant. When she served as a prosecutor in family court cases, court officers would mistake her for a defendant's girlfriend. Riding in her Jaguar with her husband, who is white, she's been pulled over repeatedly by police, who suspected her of being a prostitute.

"For whatever reason, they have not figured out that there are interracial marriages allowed in this state, so the only reason a black woman can be in a car with a white man is because she's a hooker," Akins said.

Even when the car registration had Akins' name on it, and she was sitting there in the passenger seat of her own vehicle, an officer would ask her husband, "Does your wife know where her car is?" Akins said.

HuffPost's request for comments brought many submissions detailing interactions with police and other security professionals, or just suspicious white people in stores and neighborhoods. But the answers also highlight how the suspicion on one side fuels the divide, leaving African-Americans distrustful of white people and in fear of the police or anyone, such as George Zimmerman, who may have the power to take life or freedom.

Renee Taylor, of Fort Washington, Md., signed her submission "Mother Living In Fear." Her tale concerned her son, David, who was her nephew until she adopted him after his father was shot to death on David's fourth birthday in an act of street violence.

Taylor said her son was 25 when his outlook on police changed. Officers on a burglary patrol decided to stop him and a friend while they were walking to a store, based on no descriptions at all.

"He and his friend were made to sit on the ground, subject to interrogation, and had to justify their presence in their own community," Taylor said. "They were demeaned and treated as of they were criminal. Just their mere presence made them suspect, as with Trayvon Martin.

"Something in my son died that day. He tried to remain calm and respectful, to contain himself while still asserting his rights, as he knows too well how the police label anything as resistance," she said.

Afterwards, David vowed that he would not sit passively if his rights were similarly abused again, Taylor said.

"I saw the look in his eyes, felt the sadness in his heart and spirit. I saw irreparable damage to his manhood," she said. "I worry every time he leaves home. I have an unfair burden of the unknown and the anxiety of what might be. I want my black son to live. I want our black sons to live. I feel as if his death warrant was signed that day with an execution date to be determined."

Of course, most people do not walk around in fear, and Akins and Daniels figure that things are better now than when they were teenagers. But if you're black in America, you're seldom just a human walking around minding your own business.

"It's nothing that you want to run around the room screaming, 'Oh that's racist.' But it's there every day, and that burns in your psyche," Akins said. "Every day there's something. If you can get through the day without being reminded that you're black, you've had a good day."

What Akins hopes comes out of 2013, if not change, then at least the realization among more white Americans that discrimination remains and more change needs to happen.

"If you don't have to deal with it and you never see it, then clearly it's not happening," Akins said. "I think the hard part for white people is that you have to acknowledge that people who look like you go through the day and do things to people who look like me. So you've got to justify not feeling any guilt. No black people I know want anyone to feel guilt, they just want them to stop doing what they're doing.

"It's like air. It's better now. Don't get me wrong -- it's definitely better. I might go through a couple of days where nobody has to remind me that I'm black."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

If you have a story about discrimination to tell, send it to: submissions@huffingtonpost.com.

Read more stories of Americans' experiences with discrimination below, from calls and emails to HuffPost. They are lightly edited for clarity.

Delroy Cornick

I can't tell you how many times someone has tried to hand me their car keys in a downtown D.C. parking garage -- while I'm wearing a suit. One lady, incredulous that I didn't know where Dollar Car Rental was at the airport, screamed 'DON'T YOU WORK HERE!?' at me as we cleaned out the car we were returning.

When I was a college in North Carolina, I had to wait on the side of the dark country road because the girl who was driving was also picking up her best friend, and her best friend's father would never let her get in the car with a black guy, so we had to wait in the woods a few miles back for her to come and pick us back up.

Sharon

When my younger son was 15, he walked from our apartment to the 7-Eleven store two blocks away in the evening to buy snacks. He was stopped by a white police officer who asked him where he was going and why he was 'walking with that pimp walk?' My son explained that he was going to the store for snacks and that he had cerebral palsy and could not walk any other way, which was indeed the case. This is only one example of my mixed-race children’s reality. Anyone who believes that racism does not exist today need only read the online comments on almost any news story. These comments present a frightening view into the anonymous American mindset. (Please do not publish my name.)

Cynthia White

The white parent of one of my students called me. I always answer, 'This is Dr. White, how may I help you?' He responded by calling me Miss White. I politely said, 'Sir, it is Dr. White.' He responded back, 'No, you are Miss White.' I finally told him the conversation would not proceed until he got it right. He begrudgingly addressed me as Dr. White. His attitude was one of me not having earned or being worthy of the title. This is just one incident out of the thousands I could relate throughout my 61 years of life.

Sandra Barnes

365 days a year discrimination occurs in every aspect of black life. If I go into a shoe store, the white salesman ignores me, but jumps to serve a white woman if she comes in. I could go on and on and on, but one of the most egregious incidents occurred on the National Mall some years ago right in front of the Washington monument. I thought to myself, 'And this is America and here I stand in the seat of our government, which is supposed to represent equal justice for all.' There were two lines at a concession stand and I stood in one of them to get a snow cone because it was very hot. I was next in line to be served and what does the clerk do, but hop over to the other line to serve the white person behind the one currently being served by the other clerk. It was like I was invisible, and I was not in the mood for this behavior that particular day, so I just said as I have on many occasions, 'Excuse me, but I was next.' They returned and waited on me with an 'Oh.' On another occasion, a white man was entering Macy's. He held the door for a white woman to enter first, then entered himself, letting the door shut in my face. I thought how rude, but just assumed I wasn't valued enough to have the door held open for me. So it's just the constant devaluation of black life and the aura of privilege and entitlement on the part of many whites who refuse to see you as equal and worthy of proper treatment. You're not supposed to be or to have anything equally to them.

Janell Zubrinsky

I am an African-American woman, 69 years old, a mother and grandmother. Yesterday, after a day of shopping, I stopped by the mailroom to pick up my mail and encountered an elderly caucasian woman doing the same. It is a woman I have seen around the apartment complex frequently. What I noticed was that she kept her back turned toward me, but kept peeking over her shoulder in my direction. I got my mail and proceeded to the elevator. The woman was a few steps behind me. I got on the elevator and held the door so that she could enter. She did not enter the elevator. Instead, she said that she would take the next one. I smiled and left her standing there waiting.

Another incident occurred recently involving a woman who appeared to be East Indian and middled-aged. She and two younger women were coming to the elevator at the same time as myself. I was closer, so I got on first and was holding the door open. The elder woman got to the elevator first. She walked in and saw me standing there. With a look of fear on her face, she turned and rushed back out into the hallway. At the same time, the two younger women walked up and entered the elevator. They motioned for her to get in, to which she refused. Her head nodded in my direction. They were speaking in a language I did not understand, but it was clear they were convincing her that it was okay. She finally came on board, but stood in the far corner. Being embarrassed, the younger women tried to engage in a conversation with me.

I was born and raised in a very rural area in southern Alabama during the Jim Crow era. My parent could not vote. The knight riders were very active. When walking down the street and whites approached, a black person had to step off into the street to allow the whites to pass. We entered the movie theater through a side door, sat in the balcony and ordered popcorn through a small opening on the side of the building. When the fair came to town, Thursday night was reserved for black folks. We had to use a side window toward the back of the building at the Dairy Queen. The list could go on and on. Today, just because blacks can walk through the front door, demand their half of the sidewalk or go to a fair or amusement park on any given day or night, it does not mean things have changed. It's just a different manifestation (cowering in the corner of an elevator, clutching a purse, exiting a room/area when blacks come around, etc.) and more covert.

It is whites in America that need to have a 'come to Jesus' and 'soul searching' conversation about how their attitudes and behaviors contribute to the problem of race in America. Unless whites come to the table in an honest and open manner the problem will persist. And, other minority groups need to be included as this is not just a 'black' issue.

A Black Man from California

I was on my way to a business meeting with a suit and tie on. I had to stop in the store to pick up a few items. An elderly white lady had her purse sitting in the buggy, and she had walked a few steps down the aisle to look at something else. There were other people in the aisle (all white). She looked back and saw me coming down the aisle. She tripped over several people to get back to her purse. No move was to get to that purse as long as there were white people in the aisle. It was really funny if it wasn't so sad.

Allene Swienckowski

I am 65 years old. Most people consider me a petite woman, being less than 5-foot-3, and yet when I shopped in Southern California it was a common experience for 'white' women to grab their purses as I passed them in an aisle.

The most insulting thing for me as a black mother and grandmother is that my son and grandsons are judged differently by the police and the communities they occupy than their white counterparts. My son was stopped and questioned often by local police because he was sitting in front of our home on the grass. The policemen that questioned my son couldn't afford to buy a home in our area, yet many policemen could not conceive that a black family could.

Edgar

I grew up in Philadelphia. It was very racially charged in my younger years. My mother is Puerto Rican and my biological father is Angolan-African. My mother remarried when I was young. We moved to an all-white neighborhood. We were greeted with our windows being broken. And groups of children whose ages ranged from 7 to mid-teens. I remembered one of the kids saying, 'My mother said why did you niggers have to move around here?!' I was assaulted by groups of white kids on the way to and from school on a regular basis. I ran so much, I thought I was gonna grow up to be a track star. I cut my teeth as my stepfather forced me to defend myself, and those days are just a vivid memory. In my teen years we moved to a 'better neighborhood.' I walked through a park to catch the El to my college. As I walked through once, a white guy I knew from the neighborhood uttered, 'Look at this nigger.' He's a Philadelphia police officer now. And after my wife and I bought our starter home, she became pregnant with our first daughter. I was ever the so-proud doting father! I lugged the brand new overpriced baby car seat and diaper bag equipped with everything! The only other thing I remember from that day is the group of white women who entered the elevator I was on, and how the one next to me zippered her purse, moved it to her other arm and took a step sideways. I couldn't help but just utter the words, 'Really?! You see me with all of this baby stuff and you think I might steal your purse?!' Now for argument's sake, I dress fairly well. No, I don't wear my pants off my rear-end. I'm cleanshaven. I work for a very large international company. These are just the few incidents that come to mind, and I could go on. And for the record, I have friends of all ethnicities! I have changed elderly white peoples' tires in the snow when it was obvious no one would help. I have bought groceries for African-Americans and whites from my church who fell on hard times. I have bought Christmas trees and gifts for families who otherwise would have none. I have helped whites, Hispanics and African-Americans get jobs. I am college-educated and do not have a criminal record. I am a father and a husband and a good-hearted person, and these are the values I instill in my children. I work with people from all walks of life. A good number of whom are African-American who are also college-educated. And all of them want the same thing, regardless of the color of their skin -- a good job, a home, a better future for their children and relatively normal lives.

Kenneth Milam

Fourteen years ago, I visited an aunt who was homebound due to a very crippling degree of arthritis. She lived in the projects in my hometown of Clarksville, Tenn., where I resided from 1998 until 2005. I went by her house to take her lunch, which my mother had prepared for her, and did so daily. Upon arriving at her house, I noticed a police car parked two blocks away with an officer sitting in the car. I got out of my car and entered my aunt's home, and stayed about 20 to 25 minutes. As I departed and got into my car and drove off, I noticed the police car pulling out and following me as I exited the projects to drive down the highway. Exactly two minutes later, I noticed the police flashing lights signaling me to pull over. The officer exited her car and approached me with her hands on her gun holster. I did not react or make any sudden moves as a precaution to protect my life. She motioned to me to roll down my window and asked me to show her my driver's license and registration. I complied and then asked her why I was being detained because I was not speeding, nor had I run a stop. She gave me some cock and bull story that she noticed that I was driving erratically back and forward down the highway. I then calmly responded by informing her that I noticed her parked a few blocks from my aunt's home, where I just delivered lunch to my disabled aunt. I Also let her know that I watched her as I pulled off and as she followed me for the last three minutes. I surprised her, and could tell by her facial expression that she did not like my statement. Nor did I really care. I was very angry, but was able to mask my anger so that my actions would not escalate the situation. The police officer was a white female. I, of course, am an African-American male. From slavery to being a target of social suppression is very humiliating and demoralizing. When will it stop?

Debra Rowlett

I want to tell you about what happened to my coworker. He has been with our college for over 20 years. He was standing in front of the college, wearing a maintenance uniform and his ID badge around his neck. Two undercover officers stopped and made him go up against the fence, and they searched him for no apparent reason. He told him he worked here and they ignored him completely. I will never forget looking at his eyes, swollen with tears, and being horrified that he was targeted like that. I could see some of his manhood slipping away as he told me his story. As I’m writing this, I can’t help but cry because this is doing so much damage to our brothers or anyone who is targeted because of the color of their skin.

Anna Orbe

I was born in 1974 in NYC. When I was 2, my family moved to a suburb of Scranton, Pa., a mere 12 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. My father was a programmer who worked for a major insurance company (think Snoopy). I was called the N word, my family was harassed in many and various ways as we moved into an upper-middle class neighborhood full of doctors and lawyers. One time, I was even punched in the stomach for being an 'N.' In 1987, my father was promoted and we moved to New Jersey. As my father registered me and my sister into our new private parochial high school with a fine reputation, the girl who was touring us around the school asked me if my father was a drug dealer because how else could he afford to place us in such a school, especially since we wouldn't be needing any financial help, and he paid for the entire year's tuition for both my sister and myself up front.

Seventeen years ago, my parents moved into a nice New York City suburb -- a town right next to Scarsdale, N.Y. Every single person who lives in this house has been pulled over by the police for walking in our own neighborhood while black. We were forced to prove who we are, where we lived and then to explain where we were going.

The most recent experience was about three years ago. My sister, who went to USC film school, had one of her student films shown in a New York film festival. Together we went to the presentation and attended the after-party, and eventually caught the last MTA train home. As we arrived at the platform, there was a pair of ladies, one white, one black, who were from out of town visiting a friend, but who were unaware that they would have to walk home, since after a certain hour the taxis in our area cease to run. I offered to drive them home if they would walk to my house, as their destination was not really within walking distance. Along the way, my sister's shoes started hurting her, so I and the white lady worked on unlacing her elaborate shoes. As we were doing this, a police officer pulled over and addressed the white woman, asking her if everything was all right. He then proceeded to ask the rest of us where we were going, what we were doing, etc. In the end, the police officer took the other two ladies home, and left me and my sister to walk. Only later after talking about the incident did my sister and I realize that the police officer thought the three brown ladies were mugging the white one. It is evident from his only asking the white lady about the status of the situation, and from his leaving my sister and I to walk home while making sure the white woman got home.

My experiences are so common among black people. I have yet to meet one who doesn't have something similar to relate. Most black people let these incidences go, but I think it is time for us to tell our stories, especially 'successful' black people, because white people seem to think that 'unsuccessful' black people are just complaining about the racism they experience as an excuse for their 'failure.' I think white people need to realize that these stories are the RULE, not the exception, and the fact that they continue to deny its existence -- thus refusing to do anything about it -- allows it to persist.

Bryan Murphy

At one time, I lived in Florida, I'm from NYC. I used to drive back and forth. I had a Florida plate. I lost count, but it was in the teens. I would be stopped after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey. Or coming in from Pennsylvania on the west side of Jersey. Or coming onto the New Jersey Turnpike at Exit 4 from Pennsylvania.

And the story was always the same:
You were speeding.
You were going too slow.
You were weaving.
You were in the left lane.
Your trunk was hanging too low, etc.

And then it was:
Where are you going?
Do you have any firearms?
Any drugs?
Any cigarettes?
Any alcohol?
Who does the car belong to?

Search the car. Nothing found. EVER.

I wrote the governor, who wrote me back and said the NJ Police DO NOT PROFILE!!!
YEAH.

I have yet to ever be stopped by a black officer.

At the time, I was a very grown man!!! But they saw a black man in a car with a Florida plate. This has also happened in Ohio, and North Carolina. (N.C. several times) The same M.O. and questions. AND RESULTS.

I live in Europe now. I drive, and no problems. I go to stores. No problems.

I have been followed in New York department stores. Once, in a 57th Street store, after a while of his following me, I turned to the store dick and asked his opinion on a sweater. HEWASTHISCLOSETOME.

I went to visit an out-of-town friend at a hotel by Grand Central Station, and was followed by a hotel dick to his floor. I got in the elevator first. He waited for me to push MY floor. And he got off with me and followed me to the friend's room. Ahh yes, to be black in America!

Tim Curry

I am a 52-year-old African-American man who happens to be a program manager at Cisco Systems. I have a teaching credential, a B.S., an A.S. and credit towards my MBA. By all accounts, I am not threatening-looking. My brothers both have advanced degrees -- one a PhD and the other has his MSW. Here in the Bay Area, while I was shopping at the local sports store, EVERY TIME I entered that store they seemed to scramble in order to track and follow me around. The first time I thought I was being paranoid, until a friend of mine who was there asked me if I was aware that I was being followed. That has happened to me there three times. Needless to say, I don't shop there anymore. Another instance was in the local Walmart as I was waiting for my oil to be changed. I noticed the various calls for security for the areas of the store I happened to be in. 'Security to the shoe department.' 'Security to automotive.' It happens all the time. Once people meet and interact with me, most times they are cool. But it seems I am often viewed as a suspect until I prove differently.

Justin J.

I would first like to thank you for giving me and others the opportunity to share their stories. My experience with discrimination is sadly quite vast, but I will keep it to one case. When I was 11 years old, I moved from Trinidad and Tobago to a small town outside of Pittsburgh.

My parents swiftly enrolled my brother and me in a religious class at a church. While there, the organizer of the course took us out of the class on numerous occasions to wash the church windows and doors. This continued to happen until I told my parents and they left the church.

John Thomas

I am a black man who was born in the late 1950s, raised in Pennsylvania, and currently makes over $100,000 a year. I have a bachelors degree in mathematics, and a masters degree in management. I have encountered discrimination a number of times in my adult life, and I will list three incidents below.

1. In college, I can remember being told by a white mathematics professor that black people didn't know anything about math or science, and that I was wasting my time. He told me I should pursue something different, and he specifically mentioned that I should try social work, because he felt that this was a better discipline for me to pursue.

2. As a young man in my early 30s, I was on travel for business in Kentucky and staying at the Hyatt Regency. I had just checked in and I was on an elevator with my luggage when an elderly white woman asked me if the hotel had functioning service elevators, because she couldn't understand why porters like me had to use the main elevators reserved for guests.

3. About 15 years ago, I was at an exquisite restaurant in North Carolina. I had made reservations for two earlier that day, and when I arrived at the restaurant, I was told that my table would be ready soon. In the meantime, four white couples were seated before we were, and after about 15 minutes, I asked the maitre d' why we weren't being seated. He whispered something to one of the other employees, and we were escorted past several empty tables to a table in the very back of the restaurant, right next to the kitchen. When I told the employee that this table was not acceptable, I was told that the other tables were reserved. I asked to speak to the manager, and I was told that he was unavailable, and I was told that if I didn't like this table I was free to eat at another restaurant. It was only after I threatened to let the local newspaper and my lawyer know about this indignity was I seated at one of the tables in the front.

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