Last week President Obama weighed in again on the Trayvon Martin episode. Sadly, most of what he said was wrong, both literally and ethically.
Pace the president, the Zimmerman case was not about Stand Your Ground laws. It was not a white-on-black episode. The shooting involved a Latino of mixed heritage in a violent altercation with a black youth.
Is it ethical for the president to weigh in on a civil-rights case apparently being examined by his own Justice Department? The president knows that if it is true that African-American males are viewed suspiciously, it is probably because statistically they commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime. If that were not true, they might well be given no more attention as supposed suspects than is accorded to white, Asian, or Latino youths. Had George Zimmerman been black, he would have been, statistically at least, more likely to have shot Trayvon Martin — and statistically likewise less likely to have been tried.
Barack Obama knows that if non-African-Americans were to cease all inordinate scrutiny of young African-American males, the latters’ inordinate crime rates would probably not be affected — given other causation for disproportionate incidences of criminality. Yet should their statistical crime profiles suddenly resemble those of other racial and ethnic groups, the so-called profiling would likely cease.
The president, I think, spoke out for three reasons: 1) He is an unbound, lame-duck president, with a ruined agenda, facing mounting ethical scandals; from now on, he will say things more consonant with being a community organizer than with being a nation’s president; 2) he knows the federal civil-rights case has little merit and cannot be pursued, and thus wanted to shore up his bona fides with an aggrieved black community; and 3) as with the ginned-up “assault-weapons ban” and the claim that Republicans are waging a “war on women,” Obama knows, as a community activist, that tension can mask culpability — in his case, the utter failure to address soaring unemployment in the inner city, epidemic black murder rates, the bankruptcy of Detroit, and the ways his failed economic policies disproportionately affect inner-city youth.
Attorney General Eric Holder earlier gave an address to the NAACP on the Zimmerman trial. His oration was likewise not aimed at binding wounds. Apparently he wanted to remind his anguished audience that because of the acquittal of Zimmerman, there still is not racial justice in America.
Holder noted in lamentation that he had to repeat to his own son the lecture that his father long ago gave him. The sermon was about the dangers of police stereotyping of young black males. Apparently, Holder believes that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yet I fear that for every lecture of the sort that Holder is forced to give his son, millions of non-African-Americans are offering their own versions of ensuring safety to their progeny.
In my case, the sermon — aside from constant reminders to judge a man on his merits, not on his class or race — was very precise.
First, let me say that my father was a lifelong Democrat. He had helped to establish a local junior college aimed at providing vocational education for at-risk minorities, and as a hands-on administrator he found himself on some occasions in a physical altercation with a disaffected student. In middle age, he and my mother once were parking their car on a visit to San Francisco when they were suddenly surrounded by several African-American teens. When confronted with their demands, he offered to give the thieves all his cash if they would leave him and my mother alone. Thankfully they took his cash and left.
I think that experience — and others — is why he once advised me, “When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you.” Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like “typical black person.” He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young — or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.