History can Repeat Itself: Trayvon Martin and the 20th Anniversary of the L.A. Riots

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I was 4 years old when the verdict from the Rodney King trail caused outrage, looting, fires and, lets just say, complete mayhem in South Central Los Angeles.  At the time, I was just a kindergartener, and my family lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. On the first day of the riots—April 29, 1992—my mother picked me up from school, and as we drove home, I remember seeing massive fires and protesters throwing rocks into traffic, shattering car windows.

Vividly I remember the fear I felt. My mother tried to explain the situation, but I was too young to understand the politics of race, police corruption and how that related to four police officers being acquitted of beating a black man as he lay defenseless in the street. I was too young to understand the graffiti that read “Fuck the police” on almost every building. I was too young to understand why 53 people lost their lives during the riots, and I was also too young to understand the magnitude of $1 billion dollars in city damage.

But, even as a 4 year old I did understand one thing—I knew that people were angry.

If the state of Florida decides not to prosecute George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin then law enforcement across the nation should be prepared to handle an outcry larger than the Los Angeles riots that erupted exactly 20 years ago this month. I think MSNBC contributor Touré  described the depth of this pain best when he said that “Americans are reaching a bit of a boiling point in terms of dealing with this issue.”

In a heated discussion with CNN talk show host Piers Morgan, Touré  spoke as both a black man and as an American in explaining these situations cut deeply, which is why there are national protests to get justice for Trayvon Martin and his family.

If I could understand racial tension and that people were angry about it as a 4-year-old, then I don’t understand why seasoned journalists like Jon Scott, Cal Thomas and Jim Pinkerton of Fox News believe the attention to this case has been overblown. “Does it deserve the attention of national media?” Scott asked during an episode of Fox News Watch.

The real question is why would the death of an unarmed teenager not deserve national attention? This story, in particular, needs to be told because so many other unjust murders of black men have not been told. On February 1, Stephen Watts, a 15-year old autistic boy from Chicago, was shot and killed by police officers when they entered his home and felt threatened because he “lashed out” at them with a kitchen knife. Instead of disarming the young boy, which police officers are trained to do, they felt it necessary to shoot him twice, once in the leg and once in the head.

The following day in New York City, Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old boy from the Bronx, was killed by police officers in his grandmother’s apartment. As Graham ran to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet, he was shot in the chest. The police did not have a warrant to enter the home and Graham was unarmed.

In Dayton, Ohio on March 1st, Dante Price was shot and killed by two security guards  who claimed he was trespassing in the apartment complex were they worked.  The guards claimed Price used his car as a weapon and they shot him in self-defense. Witnesses to the murder disagree with the story of the security guards, but the guards have yet to be arrested or charged with Price’s death.

And just two weeks ago, Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old college football player from Pasadena, Calif., was shot and killed by police officers after a man gave false robbery reports to police. The man claimed that, while he waited in line at a local taco truck, he was a victim of armed robbery by McDade. When police arrived on the scene, they thought McDade was armed so they shot him. The man who made the reports has since admitted to lying about seeing a weapon and the officers are now on paid administrative leave.

When I read these stories I can’t help but to think of my younger brothers, also teenagers and black in America. The stories of Stephen, Ramarley, Dante and Kendrec were not heard across national airwaves, therefore Trayvon’s deserves national attention.

During the Rodney King trial, officers defended their use of force by saying King was resisting arrest and high on PCP, although test showed the drug was not in his system. The image of Trayvon Martin is also being questioned. Many are calling him a thug because he wore a hoodie the night he was shot, he was suspended from school for having a bag with marijuana residue and he tweeted under the name @No_Limit_N***a.

We all have faults. King was intoxicated and did run police on a high-speed chase before his arrest. And Martin should not have been experimenting with drugs. But one of the beautiful things about life is the chance to grow and learn from our mistakes. Sadly, Trayvon Martin’s life was taken that rainy Sunday evening.

There was probably nothing Martin could have said to Zimmerman that night to save his life. Zimmerman had already categorized him as one of the ones who “always get away.” Even if Martin tried to plead his case or identify himself, we’ve learned that in America, even a birth certificate is not enough to  prove your identity.

America is still hostile ground for many African-Americans and there is definitely question if the local police handled this case without bias. Would the “Stand Your Ground” law apply if Martin shot Zimmerman out of self-defense?  Those participating in the numerous protests across the country are asking this question. There are too many questions unanswered and people are angry. Zimmerman clearly feels this rage as he is in hiding, for fear of his life. TIME magazine called the Los Angeles riots the most destructive riot in U.S. history.  If we don’t want history to repeat itself, then our justice system cannot fail us here. A trial is definitely necessary. Even a four year old could understand that point.

 

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