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Two years after Trayvon Martin killing, human rights lawyer says America ‘burdened with a legacy of slavery’

February 26th, 2014
04:33 PM ET

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.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • U.S. Politics
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Creep Doggie Log

    The amount of attention given to the killing of Trayvon Martin is beyond absurd. About four black teenagers are murdered in US cities every day on average, but rarely do their stories make national news because they are usually killed by other black teenagers.

    The Zimmerman/Martin story took on a life of its own when CBS and MSNBC produced inaccurate or intentionally distorted depictions of the event, which then got picked up by professional provocateurs Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Then the sharks like Benjamin Crump smelled blood and it turned into a feeding frenzy. The purveyors of outrage demanded a trial, and they got it. Now they're unhappy with the result. I say too bad, enough is enough!

    And here's CNN continuing the through-the-looking-glass version by calling Zimmerman the "assailant," when in fact he was the victim of a brutal assault. Of course Zimmerman isn't blameless – He could easily have avoided the whole situation. But so could Martin. The Dunn case bears little resemblance to either the Zimmerman trial or the events that precipitated it.

    Slavery ended more than 150 years and numerous generations ago. It's time for everyone to stop blaming the problems that African-Americans face today on events so far in the past.

    February 27, 2014 at 9:16 am | Reply
    • Supreme Victory

      The difference between those "four black teens" and GZ is the shooter of the teens is arrested. George Zimmerman was not arrested initially. THAT IS WHY IT MADE NEWS. Yes, people get MURDERED everyday, but as long as the shooter is arrested or sought after for charges life goes on. When someone FOLLOWS and SHOOTS someone and they get to go home, then it makes NEWS.

      You keep comparing this case to other black shootings while ignoring that ONE KEY FACT. GZ WAS NOT ARRESTED. HE WENT HOME.

      February 27, 2014 at 10:10 am | Reply
    • bobgnote

      No wonder there's a thing, called 'knockout game.' I read your rambling paragraphs, and it's obvious your first two set up the nonsense, about an 'assault' and your ridiculous hyperbolae, toward blame, when MARTIN WAS KILLED BECAUSE HE WAS A MATERIAL WITNESS, TO A GUN CRIME, which Zimmerman intended to commit, when Zimmerman was not supposed to make contact.

      But Zimmerman had an agenda. He knew SPD was en route. Dispatch told him, "We don't need you to do that."

      Martin had an agenda. He knew he was being followed, as it turned out, by a stalker, with a handgun, who intended to use that handgun. Naturally, in your right-wing-nutjob ramble, you migrate, to ranting, about "assailant . . . assault . . . avoided . . . " after dropping names and rambling.

      You seem to think Martin should invite pistol-packing, ADHD-affected Zimmy, back to meet Tracy, Dog-Log, and never mind Zimmy was probably tweaking, on his Adderal and Temazepam and who knows what other drugs, and how about his habit, of drawing down, on women and kids?

      You just proved, redundantly that right-wing-nutjobs can't think very well, and your proliferation is probably the reason most Americans shouldn't do jury duty, but rather, you all nutjobs should take chill pills and meditate.

      March 21, 2014 at 10:40 am | Reply
  2. BOMBO

    You raise a number of good points, but few will notice due to the fact that you chose such a ridiculous "example".

    I'm not saying Zimmerman was a good guy. All I'm saying is.....REASONABLE DOUBT.

    There was so much reasonable doubt, the persecution...er...prosecution should never have gone to trial in the first place.

    February 28, 2014 at 1:02 am | Reply
  3. Name*Alvin

    As time goes on it is becoming clearer and clearer if black people had only followed Malcolm X instead Dr king black people would be better of world wide and trayvon would be alive or both trayvon and Zimmerman would be dead by Malcolm X was right along

    February 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  4. bobgnote

    Reblogged this on Bobgnote's Blog and commented:

    In REPLY, to Creep Doggy Log's ramble, about Zimmerman's murder, of unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin, 3/21/14:
    No wonder there's a thing, called 'knockout game.' I read your rambling paragraphs, and it's obvious your first two set up the nonsense, about an 'assault' and your ridiculous hyperbolae, toward blame, when MARTIN WAS KILLED BECAUSE HE WAS A MATERIAL WITNESS, TO A GUN CRIME, which Zimmerman intended to commit, when Zimmerman was not supposed to make contact.

    But Zimmerman had an agenda. He knew SPD was en route. Dispatch told him, "We don't need you to do that."

    Martin had an agenda. He knew he was being followed, as it turned out, by a stalker, with a handgun, who intended to use that handgun. Naturally, in your right-wing-nutjob ramble, you migrate, to ranting, about "assailant . . . assault . . . avoided . . . " after dropping names and rambling.

    You seem to think Martin should invite pistol-packing, ADHD-affected Zimmy, back to meet Tracy, Dog-Log, and never mind Zimmy was probably tweaking, on his Adderal and Temazepam and who knows what other drugs, and how about his habit, of drawing down, on women and kids?

    You just proved, redundantly that right-wing-nutjobs can't think very well, and your proliferation is probably the reason most Americans shouldn't do jury duty, but rather, you all nutjobs should take chill pills and meditate.

    March 21, 2014 at 10:44 am | Reply
  5. StopLookListen04

    You should check your facts before you comment. EJI is a nonprofit organization that operates off of private donations. They do not handle civil cases that sue for money, they almost solely work in criminal court representing poor, incarcerated people who cannot pay them and aren't asked to do so. As a nonprofit their financial records are available and online; check it out. Bryan Stevenson has the skills and the credentials to make a lot more money doing other kinds of law, and could easily be doing that if getting rich were his goal. Clearly it is not.

    He also pays way too much attention to the court system, prison system, and country in which he lives and works to show up somewhere being "objective." What does it even mean to be objective in the face of what you believe to be crippling injustice and inequality?

    February 26, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Reply

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