Stereotypes in America: We don't need to do that in this country
Write to the Point
“OK, we don’t need you to do that.”
If ever there was a clear indication of a turning point, a crux, a nexus it’s those eight little words spoken the night of Feb. 26, 2012 by a Sanford Police Department dispatcher to George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was following a black teen in a dark gray hooded sweatshirt who he believed was acting suspiciously. That teen was Trayvon Martin.
And as history shows, Zimmerman, who acknowledged the dispatcher with an “OK,” did not follow that advice. If he had, he would not have just been acquitted of criminal charges in the death of Martin because they would never have had a confrontation.
Martin would not have been forced into a fight or flight situation and felt threatened enough to defend himself by advancing on the stalking Zimmerman. Zimmerman then would not have had to pull his gun in self-defense and shoot Martin.
Ruined lives would still be whole.
No matter what happens from here on out, the question of “why” will probably always remain. Why did Zimmerman not pay heed and stop following Martin? Why did he not wait for police, who were en route, to arrive at his location?
People claim a racial motive in Zimmerman’s actions that night. Race probably played some role, but I don’t believe it was the singular defining reason, as Florida prosecutors sought to prove in their case against Zimmerman.
It’s not just race that led to Martin’s death. It’s the sum of many aspects of our modern society that influence not just Zimmerman but the rest of us: Anger, frustration, powerlessness and fear.
Zimmerman: “These (expletive) they always get away.”
Zimmerman’s neighborhood had experienced recent break-ins and in his mind Martin was the stereotype of someone who would commit a crime: A teenager in a dark, hooded sweatshirt walking through a neighborhood at night, looking at houses. Black, yes, that contributed, but even if Zimmerman hadn’t gotten a look at his skin, Martin still fit the bill, and Zimmerman wasn’t going to let him get away.
No doubt about it, Zimmerman caused Martin’s death, and if justice is to be served he has to pay something to society. His actions killed Martin and damaged a community.
But we have a role to play in this sad saga, too. Many of us have had our persons and/or property violated and we feel powerless to prevent it, especially when law enforcement isn’t able to protect us. So we respond to our anger, frustration and fear by barring our windows, barricading our doors, gating our communities and carrying concealed weapons.
Stereotypes abound that fuel our anger, frustration and feeling of helplessness about our world. After all not only do hooded figures walking at night pose a threat, but people on welfare or unemployment – they are all lazy and use drugs, those standing on street corners with a cardboard sign – they just want money for booze, politicians – they always lie (well), government workers – they spend their time leaning on shovels, journalists – they invent news, and the list goes on.
There is another way, and that is to remember we are all naturally created unique, while stereotypes are man-made. Life is a canvas covered in many hues painted with fine-haired brushes, not applied with a roller or paint gun.
If Zimmerman had chosen to approach Martin in his car and ask a simple question like “Can I help you, you look lost,” perhaps he might have found out more that would have eased his fears, or at least reduced the building tension.
He might have found Martin to be a “he,” not a “they.”
It might behoove the rest of us to not let stereotyping rule our thoughts and actions, to take a moment and see people individually and not as “they.” Because stereotyping never helps.
We don’t need to do that.