'It Could Have Been Me': a Black-Studies Graduate Student Responds to the Killing of Trayvon Martin
Q. Your graduate work focuses on stop-and-frisk practices as a form of racial profiling. How is Martin's death connected to your research?
A. Based on my research, I know that in New York City alone, 700,000 people are stopped and frisked on a yearly basis. Eighty-five percent of those people who are targets for police surveillance are black or Hispanic. Only about seven percent are even arrested. Whether we are stopped, searched, arrested, or shot, it's all the same. We're being automatically read as a threat, criminal, or suspicious at the very least.
Q. In the past few days students at colleges in Florida have organized protests in response to this incident. Do you see racial profiling as an important issue for scholars to address?
A. Racial profiling and the killing of Trayvon Martin is a higher-education issue. My scholarship, for example, is responsible for educating the public on these social phenomena. Racial profiling is a sensitive issue that has historically plagued this nation since its colonial foundation and throughout the civil-rights movement. It remains with us in the post-Obama era. It needs to be studied, dissected, and constantly examined.
The police response to Martin's death was a form of racial profiling and the mainstream newspapers first framed the story as a white neighborhood watchman who killed a black boy. Later we find out that Zimmerman is Spanish-speaking, and now the media is saying he is a white Hispanic. These racial categorizations are showing us how people are being valued. We have to teach the public how to read between the lines. Trayvon's murder provides an impetus for me to pursue my research and illuminate the areas that are often ignored. There are ordinary people in their own neighborhoods who are repeatedly stopped, arrested, and funneled through the criminal-justice system. These people are living the new Jim Crow and are fighting against it in criminal-court proceedings every day.