I typically enjoy reading Peter Schrag’s columns, but I must confess that his commentary, “Days of demonstrations: Verdict on the verdict” (Viewpoints, July 26), left me numb.
It was troubling to read an op-ed about the media’s mistreatment of the George Zimmerman case when Trayvon Martin was dead. Schrag appeared unsympathetic as he sidestepped grappling with the more salient issues of the case.
More troubling was the manner in which he threw the rest of his readers under the proverbial bus, or should I say, to the back of it. His dog whistles painted the post-verdict protesters as a group of misguided, out-of-control African Americans. “Looting in Florida” and “smashed windows in downtown Oakland” – these types of carefully coded words incite the worst type of racial fears and negative impressions.
Schrag evoked Tawana Brawley to disparage the character of the Rev. Al Sharpton, calling him a rabble-rouser, while accusing film director Spike Lee of being irresponsible. He criticized Oakland as having “dithering leadership,” making “it a playpen for every thug and vandal in the Bay Area.”
Social activism and civic engagement are cornerstones of our democracy, and we should be encouraging more young people to stand up and speak out, instead of trying to silence their protests.
Marion Woods, a Morehouse College schoolmate of Martin Luther King Jr., recalled to me that King faced a barrage of dog whistles from the Southern press and national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time magazine. “They called King and others in the movement rabble-rousers and communist,” Woods said.
Woods said he remembered justice being denied a murdered 14-year-old named Emmett Till. He remembered justice being delayed for four young black girls whose lives ended after a terrorist’s bomb ripped through their church in Birmingham, Ala.
And now, Trayvon Martin is dead, and in all three cases, justice was delayed or denied.
The death of Trayvon is the story of our times, and no innocent verdict will change it. Hopefully, we can learn from him what we didn’t learn from the deaths of Emmett Till and the girls in Birmingham – that no law or policy will ever be able to hide the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the living room of America: race.
Trayvon’s story reminds us all of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. Let us recommit ourselves to equal rights and justice for all.
Sam Starks is executive director of MLK 365, an Elk Grove-based nonprofit established to advance Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for nonviolent social change.