By Diana Robinson-Bardyn | New Smyrna Beach
The world is perplexed when the police force in a small southern town nonchalantly accepts a vigilante’s claim of being threatened by an unarmed boy.
Today a small town in Florida is the center of a national controversy and global interest. Not since talk of chads and the U.S. presidential race of 2000 plunged the nation into uncertainty has Florida been the focus of so much international attention.
It is not a surprise that headlines in Der Spiegel read “Die Schande von Sanford”, The Shame of Sanford. In the French and German press there are ample references to President Obama’s statement, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
There are differences between children and adults, and there is a difference between a child carrying a bag of Skittles and a man carrying a lethal weapon. The world takes note when the police force in a small southern town can so nonchalantly ignore those differences. Together we are learning that we have a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that seems to provide a legitimate “license to kill” – a kind of green light coverage – to any vigilante who is threatened by hoodies, dark skin or Skittles.
Florida’s criminal justice system is not without questionable racial disparities. It is a criminal justice system known for sentencing children to life without parole (JLWOP) for non-homicidal crimes, a practice that disproportionately affected young African-Americans, and judged them, sometimes at the age of 14, as irredeemable. The Supreme Court ruled against this barbaric practice unique to the US and Israel in Graham vs Florida in 2010. At the time 77 of the 129 offenders sentenced as juveniles to life without parole were in the State of Florida. The remaining 52 were scattered in 10 states.
A new report published by The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a more effective criminal justice system, found “extreme” racial disparities in the number of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed before their 18th birthday.
Yes, there is a difference between a child carrying a bag of Skittles and a man carrying an armed revolver. Young Trayvon Martin was killed in cold blood. He was killed because of a dangerous mindset that judges hoodies and dark skin as suspicious. He was killed because of Florida’s shoot first law, a law that empowers and legitimizes racist vigilantes by providing them with a defense they would not otherwise be entitled to.
Zimmerman is still free because the Sanford police determined that a 220 pound armed White man who was in pursuit of a 140 pound unarmed Black kid could credibly claim he was threatened.
That is incredible, and that is the shame of Sanford.
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