Chicago Defender – Stand Up!
By Andrea L. Zopp
The “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has once again changed the conversation about how the criminal justice system works – or doesn’t work – for African Americans. We already knew that men of color get profiled and receive harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes. The Zimmerman verdict reminds us that justice isn’t guaranteed even when we are the victim. And, what’s more, even when the victim is a child.
In our hearts we know that what happened to Trayvon was wrong. We took it personally even before President Obama struck a chord with his emotional speech, saying: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” What frightens me as the mother of a 17-year-old African American male is that what happened to Trayvon could happen to my son. I’m not alone in this. Not since the brutal lynching of Emmitt Till has the savage treatment of an African American teenager left such a deep wound across the nation.
My husband, Bill, and I have talked to our son about the challenges facing black men in America. We have told him that, simply because of his race, he could be viewed as a threat and that the rules for he and his black friends are not always the same as those for his white friends. These were not pleasant conversations, but they were necessary.
But now, after the Zimmerman verdict, like many other parents of black children, I struggle with what to say to my children. How can I explain what happened in Sanford, Florida? I am a lawyer and a former prosecutor; I understand all the legal arguments. I get, the challenges that “Stand Your Ground” presented for the prosecution. But I find nothing compelling there to explain to my son, how a teen, very much like him, could be profiled, stalked and murdered and his killer walk free.
After much thought, I have concluded that you cannot explain hate, you cannot explain racism, you cannot explain ignorance and the fear that it fuels. Instead you have to recognize it for the evil that it is and stand up against it.
We also have to stand up, for our children. As a community of parents, aunts and uncles, teachers, pastors and neighbors, we have to show our young people that they are valued, supported and loved. Too many of them have seen so much violence and death in their young lives that they don’t value their own lives. They’ve been marginalized in every way possible, from being the least likely to be employed and the most likely to drop out of school and go to prison. We have to overcome the diminishing and dehumanizing messaging they get every day. We have to let them know that we believe in them and what they can achieve.
We have to let them know that we are going to fight for them. And then we have to do it.
We know how to fight for social justice. Fifty years ago, thousands of Americans of all races and ethnicities marched on Washington to demand equality for African Americans. They converged on the mall of the Washington monument where Dr. King made his historic “I Have A Dream” speech. This year on August 24, we are gathering again, to commemorate the event that galvanized the civil rights movement and more importantly, to stand up for our children and for our communities. Our children are under attack, our right to vote is under attack, our right to equal educational and economic opportunity is under attack and it is time to stand up and state it loud and clear that we will not go backward.
I encourage you, if there’s any way that you can, to stand up and to participate in the 50th Anniversary March on Washington. Join me and others from the Chicago Urban League and organizations across the country and stand up on the legacy built with the pain, blood, courage and strength of those freedom fighters who went before us. Stand up, for our children and ourselves.
Andrea L. Zopp is President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. For more information about the Chicago Urban League visit www.thechicagourbanleague.org.