By Mick Krever, CNN
Two years ago Wednesday, a black teenager named Trayvon Martin became the latest face of what many called racial injustice in America.
Martin was unarmed, except with a hoodie, when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
The assailant, George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, claimed self-defense. A jury agreed, pronouncing him not guilty.
Of course Trayvon's case was hardly the first or the last such tragedy.
Just two weeks ago, again in Florida, a similar situation: a white man escaped the most serious charge of first degree murder after he shot and killed a black teenager in a dispute over loud music, of all things. Michael Dunn was convicted on three charges of attempted second-degree murder for shooting into the SUV holding the victim and other black teenagers.
The cases “reflect a continuing disregard for valuing people of color in the way that we have to if we’re going to recover from our history inequality and racial injustice,” Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“This country is burdened with a legacy of slavery. We enslaved Africans for over two centuries. From the end of reconstruction until World War II we terrorized and traumatized black people in America with lynchings and violence and racial hatred.”
“And because we never told the truth about all of those problems and all the difficulties that created, we never had the moment of truth and reconciliation that every country requires if it’s going to deal with decades of human rights abuse. We didn’t have what South Africa went through.”
The result of that, Stevenson said, is that America has become “very arrogant” about its ability to avoid racial inequality.
“In Germany there was this deep reflection that we could never again repeat the mistakes of the Holocaust,” Stevenson said. “There is within the German consciousness a deep resolve to never again engage in that kind of systematic killing.”
“And I think about that because I would be outraged today if I saw the nation state of Germany putting people in gas chambers, and I’d certainly be outraged if they were disproportionately Jewish.”
“Yet in America, where we have lynched and victimized thousands of African Americans throughout our history, we still have a death penalty system that operates in a very racially skewed manner.”
Across the board, the statistics tell a damning tale.
Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Sentencing Project.
Blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rate, yet blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, says the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The country has really change in the last 50 years,” Stevenson said. “In 1972 we had 300,000 people in jails and prisons in America. Today we have 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.”
“Much of that has been achieve through targeted prosecutions of people of color. The Bureau of Justice reports that one in three black male babies born in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison.”
“Many of these young people have not committed violent crimes or done anything serious. They’re there for drug crimes or for property crimes.”
This phenomenon of mass incarceration, and racially biased criminal justice, may be fundamentally altering America, Stevenson suggested.
“In many states you permanently lose the right to vote,” he said. In “my state of Alabama, 34% of the black male population has permanently lost the right to vote as the result of a criminal conviction.”
“It is absolutely disrupting the opportunities for America to become a full democracy.”