Zimmerman, who was hellbent on protecting his condominium community from crime, became a perpetrator himself by shooting 17-year-old Trayvon in the chest after pursuing him against the 911 operator’s warning not to do so.
Zimmerman inferred that Martin was a burglar walking to and fro seeking someone to prey upon. In the rain? Not likely.
As a neighborhood watch leader of his community, his practices were unique. Most neighborhood watch leaders don’t carry guns. At the most, they report crimes in progress, give a description of the suspect and location of the incident, and wait to speak with police.
What seems to fuel the Trayvon Martin debate is the perception of young black American males as criminals and dangerous. A young man dressed in jeans, sneakers and a hooded shirt (by the way it was raining) is cemented as suspect into the perceptions of many suburbanites and, quite honestly, also local police departments. It is this same attire that CNN analyst Anderson Cooper says he wears every day when he’s not a work.
This excessive targeting and profiling of young black males is what keeps prisons and penitentiaries filled, overwhelmingly, with a minority inmate population. It is a win-win scenario for those who benefit. It keeps communities “crime-free,” thus making the prison industrial complex one of the highest profiting businesses in America today.
The same ideology can be traced to the Reconstruction era after slavery when free blacks were subjected to black codes and other racially charged arbitrary laws that socially controlled and re-enslaved them so that they could be exploited again for cheap labor.
The Decatur Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. is working diligently with young black males in DeKalb to combat those perceptions. With its Young Men of Excellence mentoring program, made up of Miller Grove Middle School students, the fraternity empowers them by emphasizing high academic standards, exposing them to positive models of manhood and to other cultures so that they can better understand other people and the world around them.
The chapter also mentors young high school seniors throughout DeKalb, offering workshops on resume writing, etiquette and secrets for succeeding professionally and in life. In June, it hosts a scholarship fund-raiser.
Just as these youths did not indulge in criminal activity, Trayvon didn’t either.
Edward Hightower is a member of the Decatur chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.