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Trayvon Martin, Patrick Dorismond and the Defiling of Dead Black Men

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An unarmed black man is approached and accosted by a man in plain clothes who doesn't identify himself. A scuffle ensues. The black man is shot dead. The killer goes home. And an obscene campaign begins to smear the dead man as yet another thug who had it coming.

This happened 12 years ago this month. Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old security guard, was shot to death March 15, 2000 near Madison Square Garden in a confrontation with plain-clothed police involved in a controversial "buy and bust" operation. It was less than one month after the acquittal of four New York City police officers in the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant shot 41 times by plain-clothed officers.

Police claimed Dorismond became belligerent after the undercover cop approached him asking to buy drugs. According to Dorismond's friend, who was present, the cop never identified himself as a police officer.

Before Patrick Dorismond's body was cold, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani launched a campaign to vilify the dead security guard. The mayor ordered Police Commissioner Howard Safir to unseal the man's juvenile record, disclosing that he had been arrested for robbery and assault when he was 13 -- a charge, reportedly stemming from a childhood fistfight over a quarter, that was dropped. Marie Dorismond, Patrick's mother, then had to watch the mayor on TV pronounce that her son was no "altar boy" (when, in fact, he was an alter boy) and that his previous brush with the police "may justify, more closely, what the police officer did."

That officer, Anthony Vasquez, who had been investigated for threatening people with his gun and brutalizing his wife, was called a "distinguished undercover officer" by Mayor Giuliani and was never charged.

A campaign is now underway to do the same to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot dead by George Zimmerman in February. Think Progress has chronicled the attacks involving fake pictures from right-wing websites and, more familiarly, leaked, irrelevant information from the Sanford Police.

"They killed my son," cried Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, "now they're trying to kill his reputation."

Like Dorismond's killing 12 years ago, this case is not about isolated acts of bigotry, but the concerted efforts from above and below to skirt justice and defile the memory of innocent black men in order to protect another controversial, aggressive policy. Marie Dorismond was the victim of the Giuliani administration. The latest victims are Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin.