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April 25, 2024

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America’s Suspect Class

POSTED: July 08, 2013, 11:00 am

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The trial of George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin who is on trial for the Black teenager’s murder, reaffirms that young Black men, and Black males in general, are the nation’s permanent suspect class. In a trial where the truth is fairly evident, and has always been, prosecutors are being tepid in their pursuit of justice as a tacit acknowledgment that Martin, is in fact, on trial and not the man who took his life. However, that is the norm in America; Black men must always prove their innocence to counter the cultural bias against them.

Recently, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire with the Napoleonic complex, had the gall to suggest his city’s police department was stopping too many whites and not early enough Blacks; and then tried to make all Blacks suspects for the city’s murder rate. By Mayor Bloomberg’s logic every white male business executive in America should be a suspect given the preponderance of white males committing white collar crime. For that matter, every white male should be under a cloud of suspicion given the overwhelming numbers of white males involved in mass killings and campus violence. This is the same mayor whose disastrous “stop and frisk” policy has trampled on the civil liberties of young Black men in New York City and who refuses to do right by the wrongly accused “Central Park Five.” But this is par for the course in America. Black males have been demonized and young Black boys are categorized as social deviants at an early age.

It was not too long ago when a white man, Charles Stuart, a white murderer, attempted to pin his killing of his pregnant wife on a Black man. He is not alone in attempting to capitalize on society’s loathing of Black men. Susan Smith, a white murderer, drowned her children in South Carolina and saw the scapegoating of Black men as a viable alibi. Then there is the case of the Camden County, New Jersey prosecutor, Sam Asbell, a self-interested white law enforcement officer, who tried to advance his career by fabricating an attack in which he claimed Black men were in pursuit of his vehicle. The thread through all of these cases is the demonization of Black men, with its roots in slavery and our nation’s enabling such abuse by custom and law. America has been fed such a steady diet of hate toward Black men that our sons like Trayvon don’t stand a chance.

The dehumanization of Black males is systemic and relentless. Some will counter that the pervasive violence among young Black men attests to the legitimacy of society’s fear of them. What that analysis fails to acknowledge, and purposely evades, is the truth that every effort is made to suffocate the life chances of young Black men from the outset of their lives. Already mostly the byproducts of adults who were denied opportunity and consigned to society’s scrap heat, Black boys start the race in last place and must run against peers who enjoy the advantages of white privilege, no matter their class status. In school Black boys who exhibit independence, assertiveness and are energetic, all positive attributes for white children, are labeled as disciplinary problems and face disproportionate suspensions and expulsions. Black boys are not dropping out of school, they are being pushed out. Once out they are left to the devices of unforgiving streets, that initially show them more love than they ever received in homes and schools, but eventually turn on these boys too. Then unjust laws feed the mass incarceration of young Black men that feeds the destruction of the Black family and removes Black men as civic participants by stealing their right to vote.

“Black males sheer survival, let alone their matriculation in college, employment or marriage, is an act of divine grace.”

Many Black men will never be gainfully unemployed and those that do find work will be subjected to the most menial low-wage jobs and most dangerous conditions. And by effect, their families will face permanent poverty and their offspring significantly high odds against success. Even the most conscious Black men in white collar positions, those that do not leave their Africanness at home and refuse to submerge their racial identity, do not escape the weight of their blackness and the burden of history. Black males sheer survival, let alone their matriculation in college, employment or marriage, is an act of divine grace.

Trayvon Martin never stood a chance. He was dead the minute George Zimmerman, a vigilante, set eyes upon him and knew a state statute used with racist intent would provide him cover. This trial is a travesty for the very reason that so many trials of white killers of Black people was during Jim Crow. There is no justice that can be had in that court room no matter if this jury comes back with a guilty verdict. There aren’t enough years George Zimmerman could serve or form of death penalty that he could receive for his coldly calculated killing of this young man. And while I do hold out hope for some symbolic form of justice for Trayvon’s parents what angers me is that the next Trayvon is right around the corner. Until we act en masse and interrupt the status quo, either through concerted political action, our consumer dollars, litigation or civil disobedience, or all of the above, these types of executions will persist and institutional bias against Black men will continue. It will stop when we stop allowing it to happen.

Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of

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