Trayvon Martin Case: Racism, Violence, and Justice


BOB ABERNETHY, host: Second-degree murder charges were filed this week against George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman who shot and killed unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. The announcement came after weeks of protests demanding Zimmerman’s arrest. Several religious groups also called for an investigation into Martin’s death. Recent polls show that attitudes about the case vary dramatically by race.

Joining me with more on this are Kim Lawton, managing editor of this program, and Harold Dean Trulear, associate professor of applied theology at Howard University in Washington, DC and national director of the Healing Communities Prisoner Reentry Initiative.

Professor, welcome, we’re glad to have you here again.

PROFESSOR HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR (Howard University Divinity School): Thank you. It’s my privilege.

KIM LAWTON, managing editor: Good to see you again.

ABERNETHY: The contrast in the way people saw this case in Florida just couldn’t have been more stark—overwhelming differences in the way whites and blacks saw it and what they saw in it. How did you see it?

TRULEAR: I identified with it. I have two sons. They’re grown. When they were teenagers, part of their training in learning how to drive was what to do when you’re pulled over by the police so you don’t end up being a statistic. And I think for a number of African Americans the facts of the case as they’ve come out and as some of the speculation has gone—it just fits so closely to a lot of our experience, even whether we’re poor, whether we’re middle class.

LAWTON: And that sense of continuing injustice. It seemed like this really pricked those feelings.

TRULEAR: Yeah, I think it did, and that’s why you see the level of emotion, I believe, that’s coming out. We recognize this. We’ve seen this before in some—various ways, shapes, or forms.

ABERNETHY: And beyond this, beyond the, what do you call it, the outrage about racial injustice, beyond that is something more that you see, that you’ve been working on—the question of violence.

TRULEAR: Absolutely. We live in a violent nation. We settle conflicts through violence. Things escalate. This case is a perfect example of an initial confrontation escalating into a violent conclusion. Those types of things happen all the time, and we’ve lost our ability to be civil about discussion and disagreement. The number one cause for homicides in this country is arguments. it’s not drugs on the street, it’s not other things like that. It’s conflict.

ABERNETHY: But is that racism or is it black on black?

TRULEAR: Most of it, in terms of homicide, is black on black. I think that both racism fits the mold, and then also the way in which African-American males have turned on each other. Trayvon Martin was fourteen times more likely to have been killed by Trayvon Martin than he was George Zimmerman.

LAWTON: But that’s a very provocative statement, and I am wondering what kind of reactions you get within the African American community when you say something like that.

TRULEAR: You get a negative reaction when you do it, by making it either one case or the other. What we’re trying to do, those of us that are working on this issue, is trying to say let’s expand the conversation. Both situations are unacceptable, being killed by another African American male or being killed by a non-black town watchman. They’re both unacceptable, and we need to be working on violence reduction in all cases.

LAWTON: And within the faith community, what resources do you see there to help in this?

TRULEAR: Well, there are a number of models that have been going around the country. The most important thing is getting out on the streets and building relationships, developing the kind of community where people get to know each other and begin to learn how to resolve conflict. You’ve seen it in Boston through the Ten Point Coalition over the years. This new program, well it’s not so new now, but Operation Ceasefire that’s come out of Chicago. It’s not a faith-based program but there are a number of people of faith who are involved in it, and they’re all focusing on resolving conflict through means that are other than violent.

ABERNETHY: But that’s something, I would guess, that is uniquely done by blacks in black neighborhoods. You don’t see a role there for whites, do you?

TRULEAR: Oh, absolutely.

ABERNETHY: Do you really?

TRULEAR: Oh, yeah. In fact, one of the top people who is doing violence reduction in Boston was a native Israeli who had fought in the Israeli army. What gets valued is not color, it’s the fact that you are real, and that you’re present, and I know that there are white people who have done successful work in anti-gang strategies, anti-violence initiatives. It can cross color lines.

ABERNETHY: But do you want people in churches to go out into the violent neighborhoods and build relationships?

TRULEAR: They already have those relationships. We are—those are our sons, those are our grandsons, those are our daughters. So for me, it’s not a matter of going into a neighborhood. We’re already located there. We already have connections there.

ABERNETHY: Well, thank you very much and good luck in all that work that you are doing.

TRULEAR: Thank you.

ABERNEHTY: Professor Harold Dean Trulear of Howard University in Washington, DC.

  • Channah

    The plain and simple truth is that an untrained neighborhood watchman should not have been ”doing his patrol” carrying a gun. This man was a wanna-be cop who liked the power that gun gave him. It made him feel stronger and better about himself. Anyone with this attitude is a bigot–anyone not like him is in the wrong. Zimmerman liked this power over others. It is the only thing that he felt gave him any self worth.

  • Kenneth P. Garnier

    A brief, but great interview; relevant and true-to-fact. Thanks!

  • harold trulear

    I di not disagree with Channah. But this does not have to be either/or- there is the wrong done by an individual who must be held accountable for his actions- in this case, Zimmerman. And there is the worng of our larger culture which perpetuates both racism and violence and a devaluing of human life. Zimmerman as an individual absorbed/reflected such a cultural ethic in his behavior. As people of faith- and that is why this program is on “religion,” we must work to change both individuals and the injustice inherent in our cultural beliefs and values. God is lord over both.

  • Regina S. Allen

    I really think the shooting of Trayvon could all been avoided, if Mr. Zimmerman would had followed the instruction given to him by the police department. Young Trayvon, would still be alive today. Instead Zimmerman took this matters into his own hands, sterotyping a black man in a hooded jacket, shooting him to death. The young man could have been coming from choir rehearsal, instead of coming home from the store. Zimmerman should of known that the young man was not up to anything, if he was calling for help while the encounter was happpening, according to what his caucasian neighbors said to the news staff. Zimmerman and anyone else who committed a crime of this passion, should be held accountable for their actions in a court of law.

    This is where (RIV) Racism and Injustice and Violence came into play. Being African-American and a man, has cost many young and old their lives, just for being who they are: A African-American . Violence ,Injustice and Racism has been around us for decades. I agree with what Harold Trulear spoke on the devaluing of human life. This is a prime example of a life being devalued. Whatever happened to” Love one another, as I have love you”, or better yet:
    the fifth commanment, “Thy shall not kill”. We must stop the R I V !

  • Regina S. Allen

    I agree with Harold, Zimmerman should be held accountable for his actions- in this case. This was an act of (RIV), racism, injustice and violence. It became a racial issue when the man stero typed the youth as being suspectous due to the color of his skin. Injustice came when the man took matters in his own hands, instead of listening to the instructions of the police, and Violence with the man actually took a life of another. In faith, we must abide by the teaching of Jesus, one in which he he taught was , “thy shall not kill” and the other one, ” Love one another, as I have loved thee”. I think this would turn over the RIV effect.

  • justice for trayvon

    i think zimmerman deserves everything he is getting and should regret this everyday for the rest of his misserable life. i hope he rots in jail for this horrible thing.

  • MacG

    Reuters did a report on Zimmerman. He bought his gun 2 years prior for protection against loose pit buls in the neighborhood. He and his wife recieved firearms traing and permits to carry. Another fact in the case is that that neighborhood had been burgularized by burgulars who were black teens. What we do not know is how many other black teens and adults (male and female) he did not follow who were not acting suspicious. Another fact is the ‘instruction’ given to not follow was “we don’t need you to do that” not a commanding “Stop! DO not follow!” This may be a legal CYA tactic by the police. If he follows he can give them more precise location without them being liable.
    Now what is suspicious? You and I were not there we can’t see what he saw. Given the attitudes I see about ‘racist’ whites and thier voilent bent towards blacks I can see where Trayvon was threatened by being followed by a much lighter complexioned white looking older guy. Perhaps there was a verbal altercation (conflict as described above) and there was a shove that had more force than intended (I have seen records of 10 yeard olds dying from a ten year old’s one punch) and it got out of hand. As stated above blacks are more likely to be killed by blacks than whites. It has gotten to the point that Reverend Jackson has said that when he hears footsteps behind him he is relieved that when he looks back and it is white guys following him.
    Being Caucaisan in a 95% hispanic community I have often thought in certain situations (stores, restaurants) that I hope these guys did not get stiffed by a white guy. See I am worried about the negative actions of others who look like me. I am not the one doing wrong but may pay the price because of how I look. My best defense may be to encourage good behaviour of people who look like me and to root out the evil from ‘my’ people.
    No one is afraid of hte Amish because of their reputation. What can we do to change ours?

  • macg

    I should clarify that a gun was not Zimmerman’s first choice for self defense against loose pit bulls but that after inquiring of an animal control officer about pepper spray the officer said pepper spray takes too long and a gun would be a better choice.

    The Reuters article: