In recent weeks the nation has been treated to a laundry list of contextual sins and foibles that White America needs to get past if we're ever to surmount our racial divide. This list has been put before us by an array of self-appointed social critics from Barack Obama on down. (And I must say that for me personally, the most touching of these pleas came from CNN anchor Don Lemon, on the day of the President's remarks. In an obviously unscripted telephone call with the on-air anchor, Lemon spoke of how still today his mother wants him to call to let her know he got home safely, even though he's a grown man in his 40s. I will not soon forget the quavering, the raw emotion, in Lemon's voice. That said more to me than all of Sharpton's self-righteous bloviating ever could.)
OK then. Today, boys and girls, as a self-appointed spokesperson not for White America but for Reason (presumptuous, sure, but it is my blog), I would like to specify one, just one, social tic that Black America needs to get past...and it's the one that might have made all the difference on the fateful night George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin:
Black America must stop explaining, and alibiing for, and thereby perpetuating, its dysfunctional and tragically counterproductive relationship with law enforcement. Yes, we hear chapter and verse of how African-Americans don't trust the police. We hear the familiar stories of fire hoses and police dogs in Selma, rousts and gratuitous brutality in suburban neighborhoods throughout America, and so forth. We hear about the indignity of stop-and-frisk. This is not to minimize the truth or the psychic impact of any of that. But if whites can be told to, and expected to, put aside the knee-jerk reactions that cause them to clutch pocketbooks tighter and hit the door-lock button in cars, then blacks can learn to overcome their more deliberate refusal to make that all-important call when the need for official help is clearly present.
And by the way, alibis notwithstanding, I don't think the hesitancy to call police is nearly as universal among older law-abiding blacks as the demagogues would have you believe. Good people are good people; they want the bad guys punished, regardless of race. They'll pick up the phone to report evil-doing, even if the evil-doer is "one of their own," and God I hate that sort of phrasing.
Still, let's look at how things might have played out if Trayvon had called the cops and told them (instead of Rachel Jeantel) about the "white-ass cracker"* who was stalking him. Then Trayvon could've turned to Zimmerman himself and said, "I'm on the phone with 911 right now, asshole, you better back off." Do you think Zimmerman would have just executed him? Highly doubtful. There is no evidence to suggest that; and in fact we have hard evidence that Zimmerman did not fire the fatal shot until Trayvon gained the clear upper hand in their physical confrontation...a confrontation that Trayvon appears to have started (when he could have been calling police to report Zimmerman's overzealous neighborhood-watchery).
And doesn't it seem likely that if Trayvon had called 911, the dispatcher with whom Zimmerman was on the phone would've said something like, "Sir, we're on the other line with the individual you're following. He's worried about being stalked. He's worried about you being a criminal and doing him harm! So please leave it alone till our officers get there." That would've surely carried a lot more weight with Zimmerman than merely being told, "We don't need you to do that" (when the true nature of the situation remained, to Zimmerman's mind, uncertain and potentially incendiary). In any case he would've known that he could not now get away with ambushing and summarily executing a kid who was himself on the phone with police at that moment.
Let's even assume that the cops responded and, in line with the demagogic narrative spun by black leaders, drew their weapons on Trayvon. What would the outcome be? Would Trayvon walk up and try to punch a cop in the face (as he apparently did to Zimmerman)? No way. And even if the cops really got out of hand, Trayvon might have been been accosted, roughed up, Tasered...perhaps he might've been unjustly arrested...all of that...but the young man would be alive to tell about it.
By the way, I happen to think that Trayvon had a right to stand his ground that night; one could argue that if he felt he was in danger, he was justified in launching a preemptive strike against Zimmerman. But that in turn justified Zimmerman's response. The whole thing went nightmarishly awry because the two principals tried to handle it themselves, mano a mano.
Regardless of gun laws or stand-your-ground laws or anything else, there is an inescapable bottom line: Of all the calls to 911 that were made on that awful rainy night, February 26, 2012, it was the one call that wasn't made, by Trayvon Martin, that could've spelled the difference in the outcome.
* ideally not using that nomenclature.