This morning I was watching CNN before I left for work. Soledad O’Brien had on Barry Black, the Chaplain of the United States Senate, who also happens to be a former U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. Admiral/Chaplain Black is African-American. He was talking about the African-American male experience in our country. He shared stories I have heard before. Over his life, which included 27 years in the Navy, he had been “apprehended” by the authorities for Driving While Black, Walking While Black, Parking While Black, Jogging While Black, Shopping While Black and more.
Why has the Trayvon Martin case captured the passion of so many of us, white and black? None of us know the complete story yet. Relying on the press at this early stage for the facts would be a mistake. But we do know this. An unarmed African-American young man was shot and killed in his neighborhood by a white “neighborhood watch” junkie. Someone who made a habit of prowling the streets, calling 911 dozens and dozens of times over the last year. We know this man was advised by the police dispatcher not to approach the “suspect” and to let the police handle the situation. He chose to ignore that advice.
We also know Florida, like many other states, has a history when it comes to race. For decades after the turn of the 20th century, it was Florida that had the highest per capita lynching rate among all southern states. Both Florida Senators voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the vote among all southern Senators was 22-1 against the historic legislation). And, of course, we know that segregation died a slow death in Florida well after 1964.
So, when an armed white man who appears to have relished the role of vigilante shoots an unarmed 19-year told African American returning from the store with a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea and the police do nothing, it is, at the very least, deeply concerning. This week a number of Oglethorpe students joined a peaceful rally at the State Capitol. I was proud they joined their voices together with those of millions of Americans who want better for our country.