Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of America where hardly anyone pays attention to what goes on, one voice continues to cry out for justice for Trayvon Martin and for a change in Stand Your Ground laws.

And after a year-and-a-half of reading and hearing some of the most vile comments you could never imagine people thinking, much less expressing, about a 17-year-old boy who was killed while walking home from buying candy and iced tea, I was surprised and grateful as Sean sat next to me and uttered the most righteous words I’ve heard since Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman walked free.

“I wish I had been there to walk him home,” Sean told me.

Sean’s reaction is in stark contrast to that of many to this day. Each new day, each new week seems to bring opportunities to Zimmerman supporters to both blame Trayvon Martin for his own death and to denigrate his family and the entire Black American population for every societal ill, past and present. Then again, Sean is most definitely not a Zimmerman supporter.

Sean Steppenwolf Soroko, 22, is a student at Emporia State University. And he is White.

This summer he worked full time doing physical labor at the Docking State Office Building in Topeka. The work was so physically demanding that sometimes it was hard for him to find the energy but writing is how he works through his thoughts and feelings. When he has a chance he writes; this summer a lot of poetry, but he is still finding his creative writing legs and is pursuing writing at college.

Seans Poem

Sean Soroko wrote this poem after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Sean’s brow furrows as he contemplates the teenager’s death, as he still does often. The pain is real and evident.

“I wish I was there to tell Zimmerman to back off.”

Sean Soroko is where White America could and should be but isn’t willing to travel. He feels to his core the pain of Trayvon Martin’s parents and he actually mourns the death of a young man deprived of a future. He is the physical embodiment of the (White) person I have been seeking online all summer. He empathizes with people who do not look like him.

Two weeks after the not guilty verdict the wound in his soul appeared not as deep as  the week immediately following.

“I’m still very disappointed but I’m ranting less about it,” he said.

He appreciated the comments from Juror B29 who said she believes that the law required a decision that she felt in her heart let Zimmerman get away with murder.

“Unfortunately, that’s not going to change the way the verdict came out,” he said. “I understand the pressure she had to put up with being on the jury.”

Sean also isn’t one of those people who hide behind the anonymity of their keyboards and spout off about Trayvon and Zimmerman and Black people knowing they won’t face any consequences for their offensive behavior.

He started following the story in its earliest stages when he signed an online petition urging an investigation into the young man’s death. He felt the need to become involved because Trayvon was so young, because his death seemed avoidable and because it seemed as if his death was being treated as “he’s just another Black kid.”

“Growing up with Black kids had a good effect on me. I didn’t see them as the stereotypes most White people did. (His death) touched an emotional spot in me.”

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Sean Soroko displayed a sign he carried in Topeka, Kansas, to protest the George Zimmerman verdict. Kansas is one of the 26 states that have the law.

He has been a vocal activist, perhaps even risking his personal safety at times, so strong has been his commitment to Trayvon’s cause. Even before the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network was calling for a national day of action Sean was taking action of his own.

“I felt provoked. I wanted to voice my disapproval about the trial, the act, stand your ground and that night in February.”

So he went home and made a sign:

REPEAL THE STAND YOUR GROUND LAW NOW!

And even though he was dead tired at the end of the day and even though it was 90-some degrees outside every day, he went to the busiest intersections in Topeka on three days before the nationwide day of protests, which marked his fourth, and held up his sign — alone.

The reaction was mixed.

He heard what he called a lot of vicious, soulless comments. For example, he heard:

“You’re not too bright, are you?”

“One woman took it upon herself to bring up the OJ trial as a rebuttal and a weak rebuttal it was. OJ murdered people. Trayvon didn’t murder anyone. What reason would you have to use him? I was a little kid when OJ happened. But (I know) that was very different by a long shot.”

Language Alert: Sean excuses himself before sharing the following story. One woman said “ ‘one less nigger around.’ My first thought was how dare you have the audacity to use that word.”

He often wanted to tell people to “stick your sack of soulless comments where your heart should be” but he didn’t. He just kept holding his sign even when it wasn’t clear that it was safe to do so.

He did get some positive responses. Some drivers honked as they passed by, some offered him their thumbs up or a peace sign in approval.

“It takes more than one person to make a difference but maybe gradually through time more people will follow.”

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Sean Soroko and Lee Sterrett

He convinced a friend, Lee Sterrett, to join him for an hour one day. Lee is not as invested as Sean and chose to approach the task with humor. His sign read:

KEEP VIGILANTES IN COMIC BOOKS

Lee said he wanted people to think about the issue in a different way and people did react differently to his sign than they did to Sean’s sign next to his. They shared a laugh.

Unlike Sean, Lee isn’t closely following the issue — he kept misstating Zimmerman’s first name — but he sees in its aftermath a trend in our society toward a need to tear down others and believes we need to empower ourselves to move beyond hate, fear and despair to confront that tendency and help someone else.

Lee likens some people’s reactions to Trayvon Martin to their reaction to himself, (he is somewhat heavy-set) when he was walking down the street.

“People honked at me. People made fun of me. I thought, ‘Really?’ Why not offer me a ride?’ Basically, if we are going to conquer fear, despair and hate it comes down to being willing to pick up on trust, hope and love.”

He said what he saw with the George (yes, he happily got it right this time) Zimmerman trial was people pitted against each other.

“What I find interesting is when someone is on the stand, when someone is on trial, we don’t wait to identify why? Are you looking out a window or are you looking in a mirror? What if George Zimmerman was looking back at you in the mirror? We all have the same potential within us as George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.

“What makes George Zimmerman a bad guy?,” Lee asked. “You have to ask yourself did he do the same thing any of us could do? Who are we to say Trayvon Martin deserved to die? Are we G-d?”

Lee won’t consider who is right or wrong in the debate over whether Zimmerman profiled Martin and whether he got away with murder because he believes only Zimmerman can answer that question.

This protest isn’t a passing thing for Sean; a couple of weeks pass and you just forget about it.

“I followed the story closely for what seemed to be a very long year and I will continue to follow it,” he said. “I felt devastated (at the not guilty verdict). It just boggled my mind that a man could get away with shooting someone because he wanted to. He was a two-bit vigilante and it looked like the justice system didn’t work. The thing that got to me was seeing the smile on his face. He didn’t care. He’s just happy to be off the hook, or he thinks he’s off the hook.”

Just days ago Sean signed and posted on his Facebook page the new petition from Trayvon’s parents, “Change for Trayvon: Stand Your Ground Laws Must Be Reviewed”.

“I’m 100 percent proud of what I’ve done,” Sean said. I didn’t care (if he got hurt). I don’t care. I would still stand there with that sign.”

Even if he weren’t heading back to college Sean couldn’t hold that that sign up anymore.

“An African-American teenager came up to me and said he liked my sign so I gave it to him and told him to keep spreading the message. Keep it alive and keep it going.”

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I spent much of the week following the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial and the not guilty verdict online trying to reason with Zimmerman supporters.

Now, being a trained journalist and a fairly astute judge of people, particularly based on what I have seen and heard following the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black youth by an armed, shall we say, non-Black adult, many Zimmerman supporters will already take umbrage with what little I have written above. But I tend to choose (at least most of) my words carefully and I chose the words “reason with” on purpose, knowing that they might offend some.

I do not use this terminology to impart some sense of superiority or to be purposely divisive but to point out that if you say something as (what I think is) innocuous as “Trayvon Martin was just a kid walking home minding his own business” before he was killed, you unleash a stream of passion that no amount of argument seems able to penetrate.

Another way of saying this is, although I expressed no opinion one way or another as to the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman, people made assumptions about my opinions  as to the outcome of the trial based on that one statement and my race, which, I might point out, was apparent in my postings. One thing is clear in the online “conversations”; if race was not a part of the trial, it is the driving force behind all of the discussions about Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s resultant trial.

What many — not all —White people can’t understand or admit is that it is not just Black people who see all of this as a race issue. They do too. Not only do Black people see this case as having social ramifications beyond one case. White people do too. They are just loath to admit it honestly and openly. They couch their race discussions as presentations of “facts” while accusing Black people of being overcome by “passion”, racial paranoia or worse.

Let me be clear. When I say, “if race was not a part of the trial” I am not saying race did not enter that courtroom or that race did not color that encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin on that February evening in 2012 when Zimmerman followed and ultimately killed the 17-year-old. I am not saying that race did not enter the jury room as deliberations unfolded. I am saying that just because you don’t speak the word doesn’t

Al Sharpton lynching

This Investor’s Business Daily cartoon by Michael Ramirez, leveled at the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and MSNBC host, after the Zimmerman trial verdict, uses racially charged imagery to make its point. Lynchings were used well into the 1900s to oppress African Americans, a fact that remains close to the consciousness of many Black people.

mean it isn’t there. I am merely acknowledging those who state that race played no part in this case. I hear you, but you’re wrong.

So, on the one hand you have people — White and Black — saying this trial outcome offers an opportunity for an honest conversation about race and on the other hand you have White people saying “What are you talking about? This case wasn’t about race, why should we talk about race?”

This is how you know this case and its aftermath was and is about race for the White people who say it is not about race or those who have charged Black people with making a racial issue where none existed. They dredge up every racial grievance against Black people they can think of even though those grievances have absolutely nothing to do with Trayvon Martin, the Zimmerman case or themselves! They rant about O.J. Simpson, President Obama (he’s not only racially divisive, he’s a socialist), the Duke lacrosse team, Tawana Bradley, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rodney King  and any other story they have ever heard or read that even remotely involves a Black person in a negative light. They cite “facts” promulgated from every White nationalist blog on the Internet by rote as proof that Blacks as a whole are bad people and just don’t want to admit it.

Interestingly, those posting these “facts” about African-Americans are either unaware or uncaring that what they are writing (or in the case of television or radio saying) might be perceived by African Americans as insulting, hurtful or untrue. There seems little recognition that Black people are people. That we are, well, humans, just like White people. We have some unique challenges, yes, but we breathe air, we eat food, we bleed red blood and we have thoughts, feelings and problems just as they do. There seems to be an overwhelming attitude that Black people are not entitled to any kind of feelings — whether it is fear of being stopped by police or of being followed by strangers or of being insulted by those emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet or by those earning the millions of dollars they earn from the racist idiocy they spew about us in print and on the airways.

Trayvon Martin

This photo of 33-year-old Jayceon Terrell Taylor aka rapper, “The Game”, is being circulated as a recent photo of Trayvon Martin, the photo the mainstream media won’t show you. Zimmerman supporters are using the photo to support their argument that Martin was actually 6’2″ and 175 pounds and could easily have crushed George Zimmerman in a fight.

So many White people have taken this tragedy to chastise the President as being racially divisive just for saying “if I had a son he would look like Trayvon” when if we truly lived in the post-racial, color blind society they claim we live in they could envision their own son standing in Trayvon’s shoes. Can you ask yourself, what is it that makes you unable to accept that Trayvon Martin was a child, a human being, who could have been your child, your brother, your nephew, who was confronted by a full-grown adult? In a situation involving a child, a teenager, a young adult, who has the ultimate responsibility to act in an adult manner? Those of you who want to proclaim that the President is not Black because his mother is White, pretend he was speaking of his “White half.” Could you then find some empathy toward a family that has been nothing but classy through this whole ordeal?

White people seem extremely comfortable telling African Americans how we should think, feel and act when they would never accept the same from us. Many of them have taken this as an opportunity to do so. Can you imagine the backlash were Black commentators to fill the airwaves every night lamenting the 38.8 % of White people on welfare as obviously only wanting to suck on the government teat rather than work or if they lamented the disintegration of the White family because of those 9.5 million White kids living in single-parent households, and that all of those children (under age 18 who live with their own single parent either in a family or subfamily) were certain to grow up to be thugs? And what about that staggering 84 percent White on White murder rate? Pretty horrifying. Why aren’t White people doing something about that?

To be sure, many White people are aware of their Whiteness and the privilege that attaches to it. Unfortunately these people are often dismissed by other White people as victims of “political correctness” gone amok, as blinded by White guilt or attacked as what used to be called “race traitors”. People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and many of their viewers and listeners would do well to listen and learn from them. Here’s a newsflash: not all of those who see a problem are President Obama supporters or left-wing radicals. Even if they were, that would not disqualify them from understanding what it means to be a White person in America today or from exhibiting compassion or empathy toward people who do not look like them (as far as color goes), traits the exhibition of which have been severely lacking in the aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman.

Those who are seeking a conversation about race are not trying to take your Whiteness away from you. You are welcome to keep it. You are welcome to talk about it with us. That is not a bad thing to do. We are not willing to accept it as a badge of superiority where you get to use it as your birthright to tell us how we should feel or live. The last thing we need is White people lecturing to us about race and racial issues when they themselves have not come to grips with them. African Americans are forced to live with the consequences every day.

So, my White sisters and brothers, if you’re still not convinced, let me try one more line of argument to try to persuade you that we should talk about race. We should have this talk because you are angry, you’re hurting and you’re afraid. We should talk about it because you have some legitimate grievances but you’re taking out your hurt, anger, fear and grievances on the wrong people. Despite the fact a lot of people are trying to convince you otherwise, Black people are not your enemies. We should talk about race because there are some very important people who don’t want us to talk because they are afraid that if we do we might discover that we like each other and then we will focus our anger in the right places. We should talk about race because we have more in common than you might recognize because we don’t talk. We should talk about race because you don’t seem to know that it is okay to notice or even talk about your own or another person’s race. To notice that a Black person is Black is not in and of itself racist. It is what one does with this knowledge that determines whether one is “racist,” a term which is really of limited value in a conversation about race.

This case could provide an opportunity, but it won’t unless something drastic happens — and it hasn’t yet. At least it hasn’t for a lot of White people. You can’t have a telephone conversation if the person on the other end won’t pick up the phone. And too many White people aren’t ready to accept the call for an honest racial conversation. They believe the call for such a conversation all by itself is racially divisive. They fear that to accept the call is to accept the label “racist.” Once again, they would be wrong and that is precisely why we need to talk.

So as I see it, we are at a crossroads, one of many we will approach. White people can stick their fingers in their ears and say, “Lalalalalala, I can’t hear you,” or you can be willing to listen before you talk, and learn.

Please read “A Race is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being A White Person or Understanding the White Persons In Your Life” by Janet E. Helms, Phd