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Monday, March 26, 2012

An interesting take on race and the police

So it looks like George Zimmerman might not have been a racist.


And his shooting might have not been motivated specifically by race.


I never said it was that simple. And anyone who did just does not know the reality of how race impacts perceptions of dangerousness for people like Zimmerman, a man who already had the mindset of a cop even though he was never going to be one.

Police consider many factors as signs of potential dangerousness. Race is undeniably one of those factors.

That is why I found this article about why African Americans don't trust the police to be so interesting. This perspective is consistent with the academic literature on the topic: Nationwide, blacks are far more likely to be stopped, questioned, detained, and searched, but only slightly more likely to be arrested. This is highly suggestive of racial profiling--using race as a warning sign of potential criminality.

Even though it is not always found when scholars look for it, we know it exists some places at some times in policing. And regular citizens also do it, including George Zimmerman.

On that night of Trayvon Martin's death, race clearly played a role in why Zimmerman followed Martin in the first place. A black kid with a hoodie is simply more suspicious than a white kid with a button up shirt, especially when the black kid is carrying something small and shiny in his hand (which was a can of iced tea).

So, Zimmerman followed him. Even after being told not to by the police dispatcher.

Ben Crump, a Martin family attorney, said this to NBC News: "Its real simple, if George Zimmerman had done what a neighborhood watchman is supposed to do -- watch -- Trayvon Martin would be alive today."

"Trayvon Martin does not have to identify himself to a stranger," he noted. "George Zimmerman never identified who he was to Trayvon." "If he (Zimmerman) doesn't get out of the car ... if he doesn't act as if he's the police, none of this happens."

So let's assume that Trayvon did beat Zimmerman up after he was confronted by him (police say Zimmerman had a broken nose and cut on the back of his head, inflicted by Trayvon). In that case, what Zimmerman did will likely be ruled self-defense. And Zimmerman will thus not be held accountable for Trayvon's death.

But this does not mean that race did not play a role in the confrontation. Clearly it did. And that should remain the story in the news, even though it won't if Zimmerman is ultimately never arrested or charged for this heinous act.

1 comment:

  1. It is incredibly insensitive to state that this incident had nothing to do with race. As I stated in your last blog post (in a different context), a majority of Americans are incredibly ignorant - Mr. Zimmerman's case is just like most Americans, they get their perception of criminal activity and crime from the media's portrayal of it, thus making them ignorant to the truth of crime in America.

    Forget that any single American is far more likely to be a victim of white collar crime than street crime, the true issue here is that the media's narrative of a poor criminal black man assaulting an innocent white female is causing true damage to the way everyday citizens react to poor black men. Now, I would be willing to bet that most citizens would simply be afraid of these individuals and would choose to walk a different direction rather than kill them, but that doesn't take away from the fact that a more violence-inclined individual would be willing to pursue and beat them rather than walk the other way. As Mr. Zimmerman put it: "these assholes always get away," and unfortunately he let his conditioned bias, which was formed from the media, get the better of him (assuming that he has a better side).