This is a parent’s worst nightmare: Your child fails to return home and you find out from law enforcement it is because he has been gunned down allegedly by the local neighborhood watch vigilante.
To compound matters, you listen helplessly as he cries out for help on a 911 call seconds before the shooting.
This is the reality for the parents of Trayvon Martin.
Martin’s only “crime” was walking while black in Sanford, Fla. And that was enough to cost him his life.
The truth of the matter is Martin has had a target on his back since he came into the world.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, black men die at a rate that is at least 1.5 times the rate of young white and Hispanic men, and almost three times the rate of young Asian men. For young black men, the leading cause of death is homicide.
In our society, there are very few choices for many black men and boys. It’s either prison, where they represent more than 40 percent of inmates, or the cemetery.
And those who do manage to dodge the prison or the morgue are often treated as rare specimens or idolized, like President Obama.
The media doesn’t help matters. The portrayal of African-American men as violent criminals, thugs and vagrants paves the way for acts such as the one perpetrated against Martin.
The shooting of Martin should be a wake-up call to our collective moral consciousness.
It is not okay to criminalize and demonize children.
The person who killed Martin should be arrested and charged. It’s appalling that this hasn’t happened in the three weeks since the shooting.
We must rise up as parents, concerned citizens and moral communities.
We must insist upon justice, regardless of race or background.
And we must offer all American children the opportunity to reach their full potential.
C. Nicole Mason is an assistant research professor and the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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