Let's cast off weapons and listen to one another - by Rehka Basu
27 March, 2012
Dusk was falling when about 200 people bowed their heads outside the Iowa Capitol for a moment of silence. Apart from the noisy flapping of the U.S. and Iowa flags, it was perfectly still.
It was 6:15 Monday, the time at which, one month ago, Trayvon Martin, 17, was gunned down by a Neighborhood Watch man who had followed him in the Sanford, Fla., gated community where Trayvon’s father lives. In a phone call to police, George Zimmerman noted that Trayvon was black and wore a hoodie. He was warned not to pursue the youth.
We heard the screams and know how it ended, if not all that happened in between.
At the vigil, they were black and white, Latino and Asian, Christian and Muslim. They were children and white-haired adults, legislators, law students and laborers. They mourned for Trayvon, for themselves, for their children, for their nation. They mourned the fear-based suspicions that drive interactions, and the stereotypes that breed overreactions.
In that vein, they rallied against the Stand Your Ground law that 20 states have, and Iowa is considering, under which someone who claims to feel threatened can shoot to kill.
“What makes every one of us feel threatened?” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, then answered, “Unfortunately it is too often the color of your skin, and that’s wrong.”
Trayvon’s death was one of 65 in Florida under that law, she said.
“This is home, this is Iowa, and we do not want that to happen here,” said Kevin Patrick, a Drake University law student and one of the vigil organizers. “ … We won’t be judged by fear, skin color, religion, gender or anything else that they want to divide us by.”
But history repeats itself. Twelve years ago, in Des Moines, Charles Lovelady, 26, was suffocated to death by two male bouncers, who escaped prosecution, for trying to enter a trendy night club wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Two years later, four area bar owners settled a lawsuit by black patrons, with three owners acknowledging their dress codes resulted in discrimination.
The director of Willkie House, a multiservice agency, has to tell young black men to watch it because being stylish can cost lives. It might be “starter caps” or Raiders jackets, baggy jeans or hoodies – “anything they do to proclaim their style,” Ed Barnes said.
Profiling is wearying, several black men told me. Matt Casebolt has gotten used to police pulling over his car and searching it. He estimated it’s happened at least 50 times and never resulted in an arrest. Later, they’ll apologize.
“At first, of course you’re upset, but there’s only so much you can say or you’re under arrest,” he said. “I just say, ‘yes sir, no sir.’ ”
Casebolt said he lives in a bad neighborhood of Des Moines. Renaldo Johnson lives in a good one, in Clive, but he gets stopped going home, too. Casebolt, 35, does masonry. Johnson, 38, is a graduate student at Drake. What they have in common is race.
Casebolt wishes there were more rallies against black-on-black crime, too. “When it’s black on black, we just kind of say, ‘Oh, well.’ We want to make sure it’s no one we’re related to. It should be ‘life on life.’ ”
Ako Abdul-Samad, a state representative from Des Moines, lost his own son to a 1996 shooting. “I’m tired of our babies dying,” he told the crowd. “I’m tired of people telling me that blacks and whites can’t fight together for justice.”
In spite of the sadness, there was a sense of unity, a shared resolve to support each other’s rights. But after posting a photo of the rally on Facebook, one of the first responses was: “Were there any white or Latino or Hispanic or Asian people there? Or just haters?” Another frequent commenter accuses anyone who so much as suggests racism was a motivation for an incident, of being racist.
I haven’t seen anyone gratuitously insert race into Trayvon’s story, and many people who have legitimately raised the question are white. I haven’t seen any black person call all whites racists as a result of this, and I’ve seen some call for more attention to black-on-black violence.
Or other races. No one mentioned Shaima Alawadi, 32, the Iraqi immigrant beaten unconscious in her suburban San Diego home last week and removed from life support. Her daughter said a note found near her called her a terrorist, and warned her to “go back to your own country.” Maybe the person didn’t realize the family had fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq nearly two decades ago. Maybe he or she forgot America’s proud legacy as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.
The moral of these tragedies is not to put up more gates and take up more arms. It’s to lay down our weapons and defenses and really start to talk — and listen — to each other.