The Legacy of Trayvon Martin

Exactly one year ago today, a 17-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin was gunned down in his quiet Florida suburb in a tragedy that left our country shocked and ashamed. The incident set off a national conversation about racial profiling and the role race played in his death and subsequent police action.

Racial profiling violates the Constitution by denying equal protection under the law, as well as freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Furthermore, the Constitution requires treaties to be treated as the "supreme law of the land," and racial profiling runs afoul of America's human rights treaty obligations.

While the court proceedings around Trayvon's death are still ongoing, Washington D.C. seems to be treading water on the issue of racial profiling. The 112th Congress concluded without a vote on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), a crucial piece of legislation that would, among other things, provide training to help police avoid responses based on stereotypes and unreliable assumptions about minorities. It did, however, see the first Senate hearing on profiling in over a decade, since before 9/11. The hearing included testimony from police representatives and civil rights advocates, including ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

But the hearing was just a first step in what looks to be a long road to eliminating the practice of racial profiling. If the current Congress were to take up and pass ERPA, it would send the strong message that the Constitution requires that people be judged by what they do, not by what they look like or what God they pray to. Looking to our past, the case is clear: racial profiling is unfair, unjust, and ineffective.

This isn't an issue that's new to President Obama. As a state senator, he sponsored and helped pass a bill that effectively ended racial profiling by law enforcement in Illinois. Obama even promised during his 2008 campaign to pass a ban on the practice, but he's been very quiet on the issue during his time in the White House. The ACLU has repeatedly called on President Obama to address racial profiling on the federal level, just as his predecessor did. President Bush vowed to end the practice, and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called racial profiling "unconstitutional" and said it "[undermines] the confidence that people can have in law enforcement."

When the state condones racial profiling, it implicitly sanctions that kind of behavior among private citizens. Washington D.C. must find a way to ensure that young men like Trayvon are not the victims of vigilante justice and racial profiling. Beyond that, our country has to recognize that this incident raises concerns that go beyond the actions of one man in Florida. Failing to take a real look at the ongoing association of young men of color with crime ensures that stories like Trayvon's will continue leaving us to ask how many young people must die before we address the serious underlying problem of racial denigration and bias in the United States.

Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said it best in her blog post last year about the fears she has for her son: "We cannot be satisfied with legal equality when for many of us, it is of limited value in the face of our actual day-to-day experience. Unless Americans work together to end the practice of racial profiling – not just in law enforcement but in the larger social fabric – the precautions I and many other parents of color take may never be enough."

Learn more about racial discrimination and other civil liberties issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (10)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

Blacks are as a culture made up of primarily criminals and parasites (entitlement mentality). The proof of this lies in that every major city along with most non-major citys in this country have a ghetto or multiple ghettos, inhabbitted by mostly black people. This is a fact. Treyvon Martin is a victim of his own culture.

Anonymous

R.I.P Trayvon!

This video is for you!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3wxdcokabI

MICHAEL MEYERS

I did not know that Trayvon Martin, a 'boy" of 17, was "gunned down" in his suburban community or for that matter that he was "racially-profiled" by George Zimmerman, a Latino.

I am shocked by this "article" on an ACLU blog which presumes facts not yet in evidence, even before Zimmerman's trial. Is not Zimmerman also entitled to due process and to the equal protection of the law--including a fair trial? When since is it allowed for ACLU staffers to smear a person who is only accused of a crime with the stain of "racial profiler" and depicted as one who "gunned down" a black youth? Moreover, how is it appropriate for a top ACLU staffer--Laura Murphy--to speak emotionally and racially rather than as a civil libertarian? That Murphy is the mother of a black male is not germane to the trial of George Zimmerman--and her fears for her son--as an African American male--are not germane to an 'article" on an ACLU blog about what happened or didn't (can we at least wait for the trial?) in that "suburban community" between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.

There doesn't appear to be any adult supervision nowadays at the ACLU. This is presumptuous and highly errant nonsense from supposed "civil libertarians" advocating "racial justice" while forgetting or not acknowledging that both Trayvon Martin, an African American youth, and George Zimmerman, a Latino, are racial minorities and without any evidence that Zimmerman acted with either racial prejudice or motivation, and without knowing the facts and truth of their encounter. Can we please wait for the trial before reaching conclusions as to law and facts of this particular incident?

Michael Meyers, Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition

Anonymous

send money to mr.Zimmerman.he was defending his life.

Anonymous

trayvon got what he deserved.

Anonymous

t.martin got his just desserts.

Anonymous

The ACLU should be concerned with the government's use of racial profiling, and Mr. Zimmerman was not a state actor, no matter what his motivations for following Mr. Martin may have been.

Perhaps the ACLU's media people are only trying capitalize on the Zimmerman trial's media frenzy to draw attention to a legitimate concern about racial profiling. However, by improperly suggesting that the actions of both state and non-state actors violate the Fourth Amenent, the ACLU does a disservice to its cause. The Bill of Rights should restrain the power of the state; not impose a moral duty on every citizen to be free from racial prejudice.

In any case, the ACLU should wait to condem Mr. Zimmerman until after his trial. Even if Mr. Zimmerman's decision to follow Mr. Martin was motivated in part by race, which the ACLU seems to assume without much justification, that would not be a crime or violate anyone's Constitutional rights.

The ACLU should consider the harm that taking such positions can have on its credibility. Focus on defending civil liberties, and leave the social justice and political activism to other organizations.

Anonymous

The ACLU should be concerned with the government's use of racial profiling, and Mr. Zimmerman was not a state actor, no matter what his motivations for following Mr. Martin may have been.

Perhaps the ACLU's media people are only trying capitalize on the Zimmerman trial's media frenzy to draw attention to a legitimate concern about racial profiling. However, by improperly suggesting that the actions of both state and non-state actors violate the Fourth Amenent, the ACLU does a disservice to its cause. The Bill of Rights should restrain the power of the state; not impose a moral duty on every citizen to be free from racial prejudice.

In any case, the ACLU should wait to condem Mr. Zimmerman until after his trial. Even if Mr. Zimmerman's decision to follow Mr. Martin was motivated in part by race, which the ACLU seems to assume without much justification, that would not be a crime or violate anyone's Constitutional rights.

The ACLU should consider the harm that taking such positions can have on its credibility. Focus on defending civil liberties, and leave the social justice and political activism to other organizations.

Anonymous

On the very first day I heard about the Trayvon story, I watched two Black defendants walk right out of court grinning at the new no-snitch justice so well endured and even nurtured here in the U.S by the ever hip and smirking cosmopolitan elite (one might even recall the SNL skit that mused - "what if Obama snitched?"). In this other case here in Boston, the bodies of a Black Mother, her infant Child, along with two other Black males - were dumped in the street (in broad daylight) after being stripped, tortured, murdered and then mutilated. And where was that brave and stinging indignation by these same comopolitan elite as we do see in this case of quasi-close-nough Whi+ey VS Trayvon???? Why - the same place it always is. Only where it will be well endured - and most often applauded. We know the elites and what (and who) they truly value by seeing where their indignation is not. One day soon the gig will be up. "Zimmerman" - you say? Those who so readily wield that ever cruel and crook'd finger of accusation should be careful the wretched limb isn't turned and thrust in their face.......P.S - If you doubt my thesis, here's an experiment to try. Try saying something cute and hip not about murder snitch culture in the so-called Black community. No - but rather try saying something hip and cute about bullying among the children of the cosmopolitan elite. You can even write a song about it. ""Yo - Caleb? YOu better check you-self you muter%u(in %a&&ot! I ain't lyin.... I'll %ill youuu!"" Now, sit back and wait to see for how long the elite withhold their proper indignation in that case. So we all really do know the truth when push comes to shove, don't we ACLU???? You don't give a ra+s bu++ about black people. At least not poor ones. Wouldn't we all know by now, or do I have to refer back again to those bodies (Mother and Babe) mutilated in the street. Not relevant when so-called Whi+ey didn't do it I guess, or maybe you're just being polite not to mention it the way you do Trayvon??????

Anonymous

It's the f'ing RICH people with the gd ENTITLEment mentality. How the hell ELSE do you explain the fact that what's-his-ugly-face (GS) is still popular even after he threw the country's finances into dire straits and then stood in line for his f'ing communist hand-out from the government, who let him use the U.S Treasury as personal office space. So did the one from Bank of America, so did plenty of others.
But I guess you can't call them that word that starts with an N, so you'll just have to call them white trash.
Like everyone called ME b/c I wasn't born with a gd silver spoon practically choking me to death.

Every economist I know has said "too big to fail hurts EVERYbody, even the people who think they can get away with doing it."
It hurts whole countries of people, inCLUDing the Middle Class and even the wealthy.

But I guess people are too dumb or too willingly dense to ever see it. They'd rather make statements that must point us out as being stone stupid, totally unable to be educated, fools of the highest order.
In short, I don't see how anybody who DOES work for ACLU can find most of the comments anything other than abysmally and aggressively stupid.
They probably think I'm like it too, b/c I have an inability to feel strongly about something and see it as logical too. But I'm NOT disgustingly prejudiced. How COULD I ever be that way? People hated ME b/c I was born legally blind and had to wear an eye patch. Then they hated me b/c I was adopted.
I'm so sick of hatred I could scream.

Stay Informed