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Can we let our kids be confident, not cowered?

By Ernest Hooper
Tampa Bay Times

Much of the nation remains fixated on the death of Trayvon Martin and the not-guilty verdict of defendant George Zimmerman.

Why?

It’s not because Al Sharpton has riled up the black community and it’s not because the media continues to produce stories. It’s not because the case has become a political fodder for both sides.

No, it’s because the parents of teens, especially black teens, examine the most basic facts of the case and conclude my son could be the next victim of an overzealous armed civilian. It’s a scenario more probable than any other death outside an auto accident.

Critics will argue that black-on-black crime is the leading cause of murder of young black males, but for me and parents like me, the events leading to Martin’s death stand as a greater possibility.

Understand, I’m concerned about black-on-black crime and the lives of young black men that hold such little hope that they engage in reckless behaviors. I support efforts to curb that violence.

Fortunately, my sons – college students not much older than Martin – don’t have to deal with those troubling challenges on a daily basis. They live in the suburbs. They graduated high school with honors.

But they do like Skittles and they do wear hoodies.

So Zimmerman’s actions, while not deemed a crime by the jury, have largely shattered the sense of safety we thought living in suburbia offered our children. And in the wake of the trial, the question persists: How do we prevent our kids from the same fate that led to Martin’s death?

Initially, we ponder issuing a string of edicts: Don’t walk alone at night, always look over your shoulder, don’t confront strangers with guns – maybe don’t wear a hoodie, even if it’s raining.

But innocent teens who have done nothing to warrant such suspicion shouldn’t have to live with the specter of death just because they want to get something to eat.

My sons should be able to walk within our society with confidence, instead of cowering to a belief that they’re second-class citizens.

So albeit idealistic, we must ask those who harbor a presumptuous fear in their hearts to resist the temptation to label every young male especially every young black male a thief and a thug and a menace to society.

I believe it’s this fear that has fueled much of the defense about Zimmerman’s actions. People who possess that fear want to use Zimmerman’s innocence to justify it.

They point out all manner of statistics about crimes committed by blacks and the behavior blemishes on Martin’s record.

But none of those arguments give someone the license to assume the worst of good kids. If such fear goes unfettered, it leads to racism.

Conversely, we must ask those who carry a presumptuous fear in their hearts for whites to resist the temptation to label every white person carrying a gun as an overzealous nut job spoiling to shoot a black teen.

We may point to our nation’s horrid civil rights history, the fact black youths receive longer sentences than whites for the same crime or get arrested for minor crimes at a much higher rate.

But that’s not a license to assume the worst of every white person.

Essentially, I’m talking about giving people the benefit of the doubt. Easy? No. Idealistic? Yes. Naive? Maybe.

But we start there, because how else can we narrow the chasm of race and make society better for our children?

Email: ehooper@tampabay.com.
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