April 5, 2012

Young and Black in America

Gary Hamilton talks about racial profiling.

Gary: Although the investigation is still underway, some suspect the tragedy in Florida was a deadly case of racial profiling. That is when law enforcement, or in this case a neighborhood watch volunteer, singles out someone simply based on race.

Racial profiling is something parents of black sons worry about a lot — including my mother. I went to Houston, Texas to talk to my mom about what some call “the talk.”

Ms. Hamilton: I did not want you to become a statistic.

Gary: I know you warned us about a lot of things growing up. What are some of the things you used to tell us?

Ms. Hamilton: One thing that I would tell you is whenever you went into a store, always make sure that whatever you purchased, you received a bag. When you made that purchase, I did not want anyone to think you were actually stealing anything. When you go into the store, make sure your hands are not in your pockets. It was important for you guys to get a receipt as well as a bag when you guys made a purchase because I believed that they love to put young black boys in jail.

Gary: My brothers and I grew up with my mom’s fears and anxieties. It was something we heard about almost every time we left the house.

Ms. Hamilton: I felt like it was necessary for me to tell you all that as a warning, as a precaution. What’s going on right now is really nothing new; it’s something that has been going on for a while now, it’s just that it’s really in the public’s eye right now.

Gary: My mom was worried I would be a target because I am male and black. And she may be right to be concerned.

The Children’s Defense Fund has done some research and found that young black people are twice as likely as young whites to be arrested. And black youths are more than four times as likely to end up in a juvenile detention center.

The group also found that while white, black and Hispanic teens are equally likely to use drugs, black teens are almost twice as likely as whites to be arrested for a drug offense.

“I feel like my life is already pre-judged for me as far as what I am gonna do. It’s either I’m going to go to prison, become a criminal or die.”

Gary: Like me, both Darian Edwards and Kenneth Bell grew up in Houston, Texas. Kenneth is in the top 8% of his graduating class. He says being born a black male in this country means that may not be enough.

Kenneth Bell: There is a strike against you because you’re black. My dad always told me that you always have a strike against you. That everything you do is going to be magnified. That you have to work twice as hard to get what you want.

Gary: So, when you walk into a store, are you conscious? Or do you think someone may be watching you more closely because of the color of your skin?

Kenneth: Oh, definitely. I always feel like I’m being watched. But even as of now, even before the Trayvon situation, my mom told me if I ever go into a store to never wear my hood on my head if I have a hoody because they’re already going to be prejudging me.

Gary: These teens say they could see themselves in a situation similar to the one involving Trayvon Martin.

“I just feel like in that situation, it could’ve been me.”

Gary: Both Kenneth and Darian are headed to college next year, hoping to change people’s attitudes.

So, do you guys feel like this can change?

“Hopefully it will change. I’m hoping it will change but I don’t know if it will. But hopefully it can.”

“Me, personally, I feel it will definitely change but it has to start with the justice system and see that justice does come, and that people view us and give us those equal opportunities to get that perception to change. But I definitely feel like it will change.”

Gary: So, when you see my 7-year-old nephew — your 7-year-old grandson — in ten years, he will be Trayvon’s age. Do you think that he will have to deal with some of the same problems black males are dealing with now?

Ms. Hamilton: Unfortunately, I do believe that in ten years, he will be dealing with the same issues that we are dealing with today, such as this case.

Gary: One survey finds interest in the Trayvon case is divided along racial lines. The Pew study found about 40% of whites questioned say the media has spent too much time covering it. Just 16% of blacks said they feel that way.


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