The case of Trayvon Martin may become a turning point in America’s debate over racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policing, and prison time for millions of young people of color since the neo-con crusade against “super-predators” began two decades ago. But first there will be a major pushback from advocates of hard-line law-and-order tactics.
This week, the Los Angeles Police Department disciplined an officer for racial profiling for the first time after a decade of complaints from the ACLU. Two years ago, civil rights lawyer Robert Garcia and I asserted that a pattern and practice of unconstitutional stop-and-frisk tactics exists in LA’s inner city neighborhoods. Stops by LAPD officers rose from 587,200 to 875,200 between 2002 and 20008. (Garcia/Hayden, December 17, 2010) The LAPD’s recent action is unlikely to end questioning of their disproportionate crackdown black and brown teenagers.
Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert calls the pattern “Jim Crow policing,” and it has received far more robust scrutiny in New York, where one study has identified 2.8 million unprovoked and unnecessary stops from 2004 to 2009. City officials, state legislators and constitutional lawyers have made gains toward banning or diminishing the practice in New York, for instance passing a law requiring erasure of names of individuals stopped and frisked but not arrested. Still, the NYPD executed a record 684,000 stops last year, with only ten percent leading to arrests and just one percent resulting in the capture of a weapon. (Center for Constitutional Rights, New York Times, March 23) Only last month another 18-year-old, Ramarley Graham, was shot and killed in the Bronx.
A deep racial divide over law-and-order persists among voters. In a New York poll this past month, 59 percent of white voters supported the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics while only 27 percent of African Americans felt the same way.
The same divide is opening in Florida over the Trayvon Martin case. Thousands of demonstrators are besieging Sanford authorities to order the arrest of the shooter, George Zimmerman, who may be protected under provisions of the state’s stand-and-defend law. Leaks from an unknown source suggest that Trayvon Martin was the actual aggressor against Zimmerman, and that Trayvon was disciplined for using marijuana in school.
Will this reconstruction of the victim as a super-predator perpetrator succeed?
According to Professor Vincent Intondi at Seminole State College, “developments are happening by the minute. Now ABC has reported that the lead investigator on the case recommended to the DA that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter but the DA didn't think there was enough evidence. The family's attorney has said there was witness tampering, the Sanford police department telling witnesses what they should or shouldn't say. The curtain is being pulled back on this police department and it's eventually going to come out"
“They will have trouble getting Zimmerman locked up because the leaked police reports say he was attacked by Trayvon, and they are already starting the public relations blitz calling Trayvon a thug, and so much evidence is gone-i.e. blood, fibers, etc. from that night. We still don't even know if he will be tried for federal hate crimes or manslaughter, or nothing."
Intondi adds, “They just put in a new police chief-surprise, surprise-he's black. They are really hoping that people lose interest, summer comes, school is out, and he walks. This is a real test for this generation to see how committed they are to social change.”
Failure to prosecute at the local or state levels may leave the Obama Justice Department the options of going after Zimmerman himself, or opening an investigation of the Sanford police department.