Trayvon Martin’s tragic death has become a watershed moment in American history: bringing sad, yet necessary, attention to the violence and injustice that result from racial-profiling and unwarranted targeting of young black males.
The dynamic dialogue sparked on race and justice is mired in duality: namely, the fact that we live in the era of the nation’s first African-American president, but under a system of institutionalized racism that still disenfranchises, disrespects and disregards the lives of too many black men, women and children.
With this event come inevitable comparisons — stories of other young men who have lost their lives at the hands of trigger-happy law enforcement officials, racially motivated vigilantes, or as a result of simple human error that becomes complicated by racial overtones when there is a white assailant and black victim.
Not every case of white-on-black violence involving young black males is equivalent to the Trayvon Martin incident. Some stories could be conflated to the tragic circumstances surrounding Martin in order to gain attention, notoriety or traction toward other ends. And others may offer tragically similar equivalencies. Sifting through the facts is the duty of our law enforcement apparatus, but for a community distrustful of racial bias among police and local justice officials, African-Americans must at times try their cases in the media and court of public opinion.
Much like the insistence of Emmett Till’s mother to keep the casket open, it is the images and the press that have provided a platform for justice too-often denied. After all, many of us would never have known the name Trayvon if not for the public outcry of leaders like Rev Al Sharpton and media attention given to those who have access and a voice.
Since the Martin tragedy, civil rights activists and families have used the momentum to highlight other deaths, potential civil rights abuses and incomplete investigations involving minorities. Circumstances vary, but the common denominator has been a desired link to the fallen teenager.
The Associated Press recently highlighted a few of these cases, one involving 17-year-old Canard Arnold, a black teen fatally shot in the back by a white security guard, Christopher Hambrick. Police claimed the security guard was caught in a gunfight between the teenager and another person at a nearby apartment complex, and ruled the Dec. 30th shooting was justified.
Arnold’s family disputes this version of events, and emphasized Arnold was running away when Hambrick shot him from behind. The family maintains the teenager never confronted or threatened the security guard and the Arnold family attorney, Christopher Chestnut, compared the case to that of Trayvon Martin and referred to Hambrick, as “a rogue, vigilante security guard.”
Hambrick emphatically dismissed any parallels. “Canard Arnold was not Trayvon Martin. … I’m not like [George] Zimmerman. I know when to use my gun,” Associated Press reported.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Hambrick fired because he believed he was being shot at, and pointed out that Arnold died with a weapon “just inches away from his hand,” suggesting it was likely he had been armed. But with a shot in the back and only circumstantial evidence Arnold ever held the supposed weapon, the family’s comparison to the Trayvon Martin case may have merit.
Another case in New York City involved the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by police during a drug investigation in early February. Officers chased 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into his second-floor home and shot him in the bathroom, under the mistaken belief the teen had a gun.
Graham’s grandmother and 6-year-old brother watched in horror as the circumstances unfolded.
Associated Press reports a bag of marijuana was found in the toilet, suggesting Graham was trying to flush it away before the gunfire erupted, but regardless, no weapon was ever found. It seems that whether walking innocently home armed with Skittles, or apparently committing non-violent drug offenses — like many average 18 year olds with a bag of marijuana— African-American males are automatically assumed to be dangerous and met with the full force of violence and death.
Unlike the Martin case, however, the three officers involved here were stripped of their guns and badges while the district attorney investigates. A grand jury has been called to decide whether to bring charges. “The demonization of young, black men of color must stop,” City Council member Letitia James said in response to Graham’s shooting.
Kendrec McDade, a 19 year old college student, was shot and killed just two weeks ago by two white officers responding to a call about an armed robbery in Pasadena, California. McDade happened to be on the street at the time, and officers claim they saw him reach for his waistband and feared he was attempting to shoot. It turns out McDade wasn’t involved in any burglary and had no weapon on him.
A recent recollection about the night of Kendrec McDade’s shooting also casts doubt over original Pasadena police reports. Anthony Carroll, a 20-year-old witness, came forward Thursday to say he never heard the officers identify themselves or order McDade to stop, Pasadena Star News reports. “I thought it was a drug deal gone bad, that’s how quiet it was,” Carroll said. “I didn’t hear a siren until the shooting happened.”
The McDade family filed a federal lawsuit against Pasadena police, claiming the investigation “reeks” of a cover up and that the shooting is part of a pattern of abuse by Pasadena police. The suit claims that the teen was never ordered to stop and that there are no reports of him defying police orders.
From Hambrick in Atlanta, to Graham in New York to McDade in California, and Martin in the townhouse gardens of Sanford, Florida — the circumstances remain eerily similar.