|(Above) In a poll, 72 per cent blacks said Zimmerman (left)
is definitely or probably guilty of killing African American teenager Trayvon Martin
This past week I have been staying with some friends in Manhattan’s Harlem neighbourhood. The corner apartment looks west, facing Riverside Park, Hudson River and New Jersey. Sunsets in the evening are glorious.
Yet often when I mention to some people where I am currently staying, I feel the need to explain to them that it is a nice neighbourhood. There is a perception among some people that Harlem is unsafe.
Once the centre of African American art, music and cuisine, but later also the seat of drug related and other crimes, Harlem has been on the upswing for more than a decade. Prominent African Americans — artists, sports personalities are buying up properties. High-end restaurants and shops are opening up here.
Still some people feel nervous about approaching Harlem, as if they would be walking into a war zone!
People’s perceptions are hard to change. While most people maintain that they do not have prejudices toward races and ethnicities, that is not always true.
This February, a 17-year-old African American teenager — Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed in Florida at night, by a 28- year-old man — George Zimmerman (he’s half white, half Peruvian). Zimmerman admitted to the killing and told the police that Martin looked suspicious prior to the shooting.
He also said that he shot Martin in self-defence after an altercation. Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged, and this has outraged many — especially African Americans around the country.
Old prejudices and perceptions are coming back to haunt America. There is a wide division mostly on race lines on the tragic death of Martin and the aftermath.
According to a survey released this past week, nearly three-quarters of African Americans said they thought Zimmerman would have been arrested if Martin was white, while about a third of whites also agreed.
The poll also found that 72 per cent blacks said Zimmerman is definitely or probably guilty of a crime, while only one per cent said he is not. Non-blacks said that they think Zimmerman is guilty by 32 per cent, but more than half thought Zimmerman’s guilt is unclear from the evidence that has been presented.
Martin’s case is a sad reminder that we still do not live in an equal America. Just looking at statistics of incarcerated Americans reveals so much. Seventy per cent of prisoners in America are non-white.
One in 11 African Americans, one in 27 Latinos, and only one in 45 Caucasians are serving terms in prisons in the US. Studies show juries are more likely to convict African Americans accused of crimes than whites. This is not to say that all Americans are racist. In most cases — especially in larger cities, most people lead their lives, without reflecting prejudices toward other races.
But tragedies such as that of Martine or Sean Bell (where three men were shot 50 times by a team of undercover New York City cops, killing Bell), or Amadou Diallo (a Guinean immigrant in New York who was shot 41 times by four police officers), remind us that there is so much more work to be done in bringing fairness in American society.
But who am I to blame others if they hold racist beliefs. In my 30 plus years in the US I have experienced overt racism a couple of times. I consider myself to be a fair-minded person but race related thoughts do play in my mind from time to time. At all times I tell myself that my actions should not be guided by race as a factor.
But I may have slipped on a rare occasion. A few years ago after a late night dinner with some other friends in Harlem I was walking to the subway when I saw an African American man standing in a quiet secluded street, perhaps looking in my direction. A strange, unrecognisable fear took control of me. I walked faster, hailed a cab and went home.
My fear, my action troubled me. I take that moment as my guide on how not to prejudge people. And that is how American will have to change — one person at a time.
• Connecting people
This is with reference to Aseem Chhabra’s last week column ‘140-character bubble’ (PM, April 1). This is the magic of the cyber space, you get connected to unknown persons from various corners of the globe and then develop an everlasting bond. Social networking sites, especially, Twitter and Facebook have certainly changed the way we live.
Most of us today live in a virtual world. While we are physically present, yet we are immersed in our own small bubbles. Idealists have argued that the cyber space has invaded our privacy and this should be curbed.
However I feel why should we oppose it, when the cyber space has become an important part of our routine. In fact the web has not only brought new friends in our lives but also connected us to our near and dear ones like never before. Now it’s up to us to set priorities.
- Vikash Bhatt
Like Chhabra, I was also a bit reluctant to accept the new communication tools. However, with time and profession compulsions, I gave in. Nevertheless, it’s quite exciting and I’m enjoying my ‘space’.
- Rohit Verma