Program Success Summer 2017 | Page 13

By , Melissa Harris-Perry TheRoot . com

Trayvon Martin was not innocent . He was guilty of being black in presumably restricted public space . For decades , Jim Crow laws made this crime statutory . They codified the spaces into which black bodies could not pass without encountering legal punishment . They made public blackness a punishable offense . The 1964 Civil Rights Act removed the legal barriers but not the social sanctions and potentially violent consequences of this " crime ." George Zimmerman ' s slaying of Martin - and the subsequent campaign to smear the teenager - is the latest and most jarring reminder that it is often impossible for a black body to be innocent .

Black communities in the United States spent much of late March expressing outrage about Zimmerman ' s actions and the Sanford , Florida , police department ' s inaction . But the anger and grief are not exclusively about this single act . They are prompted by the ways the case reveals the continuing subordination of full citizenship for black Americans .
This is not a straightforward issue of racial inequality , discussions of which are often reduced to an almost competitive empirical analysis of which Americans have the most problems . On those terms , there ' s ample evidence that black Americans have consistently had fewer resources and opportunities . But this case is not about which race or group of people has the most problems . Right now people of all races have problems . With a decade of war , an unemployment rate still hovering at historic highs , stinging gas prices raising the cost of consumer goods and a housing market still on its knees , there are few families untouched in some material way by our national challenges . Even for those who have remained insulated from our collective difficulties , there are personal tragedies and loss .
Guilty of Being Black Melissa Harris Perry Trayvon Martin Jacksonville , Florida Summer 2017
Yes , everyone has problems . And , yes , government has a role in making citizens individually and collectively more resilient . Moreover , democratic governments have a duty to ensure that citizens bear the weight of these burdens more equally .
Program Success 12 Summer 2017