Color of Change director Rashad Robinson: Negative images of black men becoming 'dangerous'

Family, friends, community organizations and well wishers gathered across the nation on Wednesday February 26th to mark the second anniversary of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a teen who would have turned 19 a couple of weeks ago on February 5th.

Even as well-wishers marked the sad occasion, another family is still in mourning over the shooting death of yet another black youth, Ricardo Sanes, who was shot and found lying face down in the grass in West Orlando on January 16th 2014.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sanes’ killer has argued self-defense, citing the youth’s hoodie and sagging pants as a factor in his suspicion of and subsequent pursuit and shooting of Sanes.

Following the shooting death of yet another 17-year-old black boy, Jordan Davis at the hands of Michael Dunn, Colorofchange.org, an advocacy organization, launched a campaign titled “Black lives matter” to highlight these cases. The murder trial of Dunn recently concluded with a hung jury over the charge of first degree murder, although he was convicted on three lesser charges of attempted murder and shooting at a vehicle.

The parallels between the Jordan Davis/Trayvon Martin cases and the recent shooting death of Ricardo Sanes, are undeniable. However, one main difference with the 20-year-old Sanes’ killing is that his killer, Claudius Smith, is a black man.

In details obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, Smith is said to have chased Sanes and even climbed over a fence to get to him, before holding him up at gunpoint. Smith claims that Sanes then reached and tried to grab his gun at which point Smith claims he shot in self-defense.

theGrio reached out to Executive Director of Colorofchange.org Rashad Robinson to weigh the Martin anniversary and about the Sanes case.

theGrio: Mr. Robinson, what does the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death mean for you?

Rashad Robinson: It is a day for us to consider Trayvon and all the other Trayvons whose names we don’t yet know. It is a day that we stand firm in our fight to end the “Stand Your Ground” shoot first laws that allow the killings of black boys without the fear of even prosecution. [The 26th] is a day to acknowledge all those everyday people who came together to challenge these shoot first laws, the collective effort that has led to power building. We acknowledge the progress we have made. We challenged ALEC, the lobby group that has been at the forefront of pushing these awful laws. Over 70 corporations have left the organization.

Ricardo Sanes is one name we know whose family is still mourning their recent loss. Any thoughts on that case?

This is yet another case of a young man shot and killed in very similar circumstances to the Trayvon killing.

Can this be considered a racial killing given that his killer is also black? Does the perpetrator need to be white, or is it enough that he was victimized due to the negative perceptions about black men and boys?

Precisely. These negative stereotypes about black boys are at the center of the dangers that black boys experience. That is why we have been combatting images presented in the media of black men and black people in general. We launched a platform represent.colorofchange.org to challenge the representation of black men in the media. We will partner with media allies who wish to work with us to change negative stereotypes, and we will actively campaign against those outlets who are not so willing to partner with us.

Most young people get their news through social media. Is your organization thinking about strategies to deal with the challenges of images that are people-driven?

We are not seeking to be an organization that polices all images. We are active in various social media platforms and we understand that there will be many portrayals of black people in social media.  As an organization our concern is that there should not be just one type of image of black people. We are focused on three main areas of advocacy — strategizing, media and policy.

Going back to the question of Ricardo Sanes — should people be outraged? Has your organization planned a strategy around this case? Will you be highlighting this case? Does it matter that his killer is black, and is it enough that he was arrested and charged immediately?

No matter the circumstances of this case, we are following it closely and monitoring what happens. It’s true that his killer was arrested, so for example the police would not be our target on this occasion.

So does the fact that the wheels of justice are seen to be moving mean that justice seems to have been served. Is it enough? Black men unfortunately continue to be gunned down on a daily basis. Do you have further thoughts?

Sadly these killings continue. But I cannot stress enough, our campaign against negative images about black men in the media. These negative images are more than just offensive, they are dangerous and they lead to this negative view that leads to these killings.