America Safe for the Dick Cheneys But Not the Trayvon Martins

We are a nation safe for mean old white men in frail health, however, healthy black youths may be in peril .

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The heart just given to Dick Cheney...was Trayvon Martin's. One is 71, the other 17. 

What if that were literally true?

Let's just say the metaphor tells a bitter truth: We are a nation safe for mean old white men in frail health. However, healthy black youths (most of all in the South) may be in peril with every breath and step they take out on the streets alone and unarmed. Just for living in black skin.

[Ken Walsh's Washington: GOP Hopefuls Upset About Obama's Trayvon Martin Comments]

Apparently, wearing a hoodie further ratchets up the risk of being a black youth. The 17-year-old black slaying victim, Trayvon, was wearing one as he fell to the ground.  "Hoodie protests" in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and other cities in his memory have pointed to the loaded pack of prejudices associated with a simple sartorial style. 

Oh, did I mention his fatal encounter was in a "gated community" (an oxymoron)? While they tend to be suspicious of dark teenage strangers, the message they send to all comers is "keep out," not "come in." 

In the saddest story of 2012, a neighborhood watch "volunteer," George Zimmerman, apparently concluded young Trayvon had no right nor reason to be walking the streets of Sanford, Fla., by himself with just a can of iced tea and some Skittles candy.

Zimmerman, an armed civilian, took the law into his own hands, reportedly starting a confrontation with Trayvon, even as he was told by a dispatcher to stop following the youth tagged as trouble. But it was Zimmerman who spelled trouble, in my reading of the facts. (No charges have been pressed against Zimmerman as of now.) Federal authorities are going to step in and investigate, thank goodness—a little late better than never.

[Susan Milligan: Obama Has Every Right to Bring Up Race in Trayvon Martin Comments]

In other words, if Zimmerman wasn't looking for a fight, spoiling for one with his gun, this tragedy would not have come to pass. As it was, Trayvon knew he was facing serious danger and begged for his life—his very short life, I might add. All that he never got to see: "Gleams that untravelled world," as the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson put it. It all ended with a bullet wound to the chest in February in Florida.

Florida bears blame for the outrage by having a vigilante justice system under a sitting Republican governor. The law they call "stand your ground" sanctions weapons of law enforcement to trigger-happy civilians like Zimmerman who have none of the training, scrutiny, code of conduct, or judgment of sworn police officers. Very nice, Florida, you've done it again. The year 2000 seems like yesterday.

I've seen law experts compare this case to the brutal murder of a 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, down South in the Mississippi Delta. Emmett, a black youth from Chicago, was a city boy visiting relatives that summer in a small town named Money. He didn't know what he was up against in the strict code of conduct between whites and Negroes. Seen by some as a boy who stepped out of his place, he paid the ultimate price for it. 

[See pictures of Notable Deaths of 2011.]

No question Till's murder was a race-related hate crime in 1955, the year after Jim Crow laws were struck down by the Supreme Court. Yes, he was out of place, far from home when he lost his life for nothing. 

But here's the rub in 2012: Tall Trayvon was just a soon-to-be dead boy walking, on the way to becoming a young man. He got caught in racial crossfire on his own southern state's home ground, not while visiting a strange land of hateful segregation. And yet he still got gunned down, in the eyes of multitudes, and for the color of his skin. 

Meanwhile Cheney, doctors say, is doing "exceedingly well" in his white skin after a heart transplant. In his time, he's been known to get aggressive in starting some scrapes, but they never left a mark on him. They are known as wars of choice in far-off lands. You can't see the blood, but it's on his hands.

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