We must put an end to racial profiling

This week, thousands of young people—of all colors—took to the streets across the country to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

In New York City, we had not seen the likes of this mobile march, which began at Union Square, crossed into Times Square and proceeded peacefully to Harlem, since the 2000 acquittal of four police officers in the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo.

On Saturday, a Florida jury of nearly all white women acquitted Zimmerman in the death of Martin. He had on his side the state’s “stand your ground” law — a vague self defense argument.

But the wide and visible outrage that erupted is beyond this case of an armed adult, of both Caucasian and Latino heritage, reporting an unarmed African American teenager to the police, winding up on the ground with him and then firing his weapon.

The fundamental reason why so many people are upset is because we live in two America’s – one with a judicial system that functions better when you are at the top of a pigmentation and class hierarchy; the other with a double standard towards people of color—be it as defendants or victims.

What is particularly painful about this, as El Diario reports today with Latina mothers who have lived the nightmare of the Martin family, is not only the unnecessary loss of sons but also the reality that no one is held accountable.

There will always be many questions about this case and how it was prosecuted. But what is clear is that somehow Zimmerman decided that being black, young and sporting a hoodie was enough of a “justification” to call police. That left Trayvon dead.

What is also frighteningly true is how many people associate blackness with something to be afraid of and to control.

As a community and as a nation, we have much to discuss and more to change. Last week, when we asked the question on our Facebook page about whether Latinos could be racist, it generated hundreds of comments – some truly profound and reflective; others troubling. How we shift our thinking about race so that we are not reinforcing it matters for the kind of children we want to raise.

The Department of Justice may consider pressing charges against Zimmerman. It has a tough legal bar to meet. But the higher bar is the duty we all have to eliminate toxic prejudices that taint the way we treat others – and that leave the very lives of black and brown kids at risk.