Trayvon Martin becomes another martyr for the seemingly never ending civil rights struggle. Trayvon joins Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of other African Americans who have been killed primarily because of their race.
Martin, a seventeen year old black kid, was shot and killed by a twenty-nine year old white male, George Zimmerman, who, without a basis other than Martin’s race, felt that a young black man in his neighborhood was suspicious. Zimmerman was determined that, unlike others who had been observed in the neighborhood and got away, Trayvon must be stopped before he got away.
From my perspective as a black man who has had some not so unique experiences, I watched the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman jury and the Florida prosecutor, in my opinion, “throw the case” away.
I am father to three black males and grandfather to four black males. I have been arrested (1968), beaten, and charged with felony battery on a police officer (LAPD). The case against me was dismissed before I went on to graduate from Pepperdine College and earn a law degree. My late brother, Albert Hopkins, held a Master’s degree and was the first African American professor at De Anza Community College, in northern California. Before he died (too soon), he was arrested and beaten by police because a white resident of a Palo Alto neighborhood thought he was not supposed to be where he was. He was in his hometown of Palo Alto. The case settled for $250,000. These two incidents are not the only occasions of police harassment and misconduct in my family.
My oldest son was stopped while on a walk with his then girlfriend on Chaney Trail by the LA County Sheriff and physically searched and harassed. My youngest son was also stopped by the sheriff’s while walking home from Eliot Jr. High School with his saxophone case and made to get on the ground and have his saxophone thrown to the ground as his saxophone case was searched. I believe someone in nearly every black family in America has an incident of police misconduct.
I have practiced law for over thirty years. That would have been lost if those two LAPD officers had finished the job of either shooting me or convicting me of the made-up felonies. As it was, I had to explain the false arrest and felony charges after passing the California Bar in order to get my license to practice law.
I have made my legal career fighting discrimination and police abuse in California. I have settled three recent cases against Southern California Police departments in the last eighteen months, including one for $200,000 where a young Black man was burned on the hood of a hot police car by the LA County Sheriff.
Another case was settled when the sheriffs beat a young man because he disputed that he had jay walked across a street in Altadena where there was no crosswalk. The jay walking case was resolved with a not guilty judgment. A not guilty verdict was the jury conclusion for a violation of felony resisting a police officer with force and violence (PC 69). In the burn case, even though the jury found my client guilty of misdemeanor resisting arrest, we sued civilly and the civil case was settled for six figures.
And in another case, I represented the family of a young man where a security guard at a bowling alley shot and killed the unarmed father of a young family. That case was settled for over a million dollars. In a sense, this was much like the Trayvon case in that the black man that was killed was unarmed and he was killed by another civilian.
The point of mentioning these cases is twofold, first to show that they continue to happen, and second to demonstrate that we have not seen the end of the Trayvon Martin case. There is still the civil rights violation of Trayvon Martin and the compensation to his parents.
There was a lot I saw was wrong about the Trayvon/Zimmerman trial. Trying the case in the south with what appears to have been an all-white jury . . . Really! I don’t see how the prosecution thought they could win the case by continuing to say the case was not a race case even though it was a profiling case. All those people saying there would have been no difference in the verdict if the tables were turned and Zimmerman had been shot by Trayvon . . . Really?
The most outrageous thing is that now we have a new scenario for Black crime. I guess it will be called, “bringing a sidewalk”. The defense alleged Trayvon of using a sidewalk as a weapon in a fight which is now the basis for self defense. What next?
What shall we tell our young boys . . . watch out for cops and watch out for civilians too? I feel we have plunged back into the days of Dred Scott. In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permitting slavery in all of the country’s territories.
The case before the court was that of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Dred Scott, a slave who had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving back to the slave state of Missouri, had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom.
Justice Taney wrote the deciding opinion:
“In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument . . . They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
Those times seem eerily familiar to these times, today!