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Clarence B. Jones

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President Obama and the Trayvon Martin Incident

Posted: 03/27/2012 1:32 pm

George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after his phone conversation with the Sanford 911 operator, during which Zimmerman was encouraged not to follow Trayvon.

This incident reveals, yet again, how most of white America remains seriously afflicted with amnesia and hypocrisy involving the experience of black men and the police in many communities in our nation.

The 1998 Human Rights Watch Report, "Shielded from Justice, Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States" declared that:

"Race continues to play a central role in police brutality in the United States. In the cities we have examined where such data are available, minorities have alleged human rights violations by police more frequently than white residents and far out of proportion to their representation in those cities. Police have subjected minorities to apparently discriminatory treatment and have physically abused minorities while using racial epithets ... Each new incident involving police mistreatment of an African-American, Hispanic-American or other minority -- and particularly those that receive media attention -- reinforces a general belief that some residents are subjected to particularly harsh treatment and racial bias."

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission), published in 1968, and concluded:
"To many Negroes the police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread perception among Negroes of the existence of police brutality and corruption, and of a "double standard" of justice and protection -- one for Negroes and one for whites"

This cumulative historical experience of the African-American community with police has conditioned the mindset of many African-Americans in their response to the way in which the Sanford Police Department responded to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Although Mr. Zimmerman, himself was not a police officer, only a wannabe, "patrolling" his community like a policeman, the failure of the Sanford police to arrest Mr. Zimmerman, based on their interpretation that he was protected by Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, has sparked a national outrage. For African-Americans this outrage is based on their experiences with police in their respective communities across our nation.

This outrage has been further inflamed, now that America has its first African-American president.

Some Americans believed that the election of Barack Obama constituted a transition of our country to a "post racial America." Others, especially many members of the African-American community, do not subscribe to this belief.

The outrage to the failure of the Sanford police department to arrest George Zimmerman has prompted several African-American civil rights leaders to request President Obama to assume the leadership role of Commander in Chief of Race Relations in America (CICORRIA). As CICORRIA, they propose that Obama convene a "National Conference On Race" or a "National Conference on Racial Profiling."

At different times during his presidency -- the renewal of the Bush tax cuts; the lack of a single payer option in the Affordable Healthcare Bill; the continuation of Guantanamo; our military aid to Pakistan, Israel's expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land; or our continued military involvement in Afghanistan -- I have been critical of Obama.
In the Trayvon Martin matter, however, for President Obama to assume the role of CICORRIA, in a national presidential election year would irreparably "politicize" the issues raised by the incident and irrevocably impair any potential success for building a broad-based national coalition of support for a national soul searching and reflection on the issue of race relations, in general, and the racial profiling of black men, in particular.

Civil rights leaders and other leaders who seek to persuade Obama to become CICORRIA are asking him to exercise the wrong kind of leadership, at the wrong time. Maybe, instead of the "Beer Summit" on the White House lawn following the incident between Professor Skip Gates of Harvard and police Sergeant Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department, such convocation of a National Conference on Race then would have been appropriate.

Today, however, the president, instead, should immediately empower his very able Ambassador Susan Cook, head of the White House Faith Based Organization to convene religious leaders such as Pastors Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Bishop Jakes, Reverend Raphael G. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Rev Calvin Butts, Abysininia Baptist Church in Harlem, Presiding Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Pastor Paula White and several of the leaders of the southern white evangelical churches, along with prominent Jewish and Muslim leaders, who together with the NAACP, National Urban League,, National Organization for Women, National Council of Negro Women, Childrens' Legal Defense Fund, etc. should convene at some venue, other than the White House, to address issues arising from the Trayvon Martin Case.

Obviously, prominent and experienced law enforcement representatives should also participate in such a conference as well representatives from the rap and hip hop music community.

I have written and spoken repeatedly about how we, the adults of this generation, are trustees of our children, our most precious assets. As trustees, we have an affirmative duty to protect and safeguard their welfare. If not now, when? If not us, who?

"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." -The Book of Isaiah 6:8.

 
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