Op-Eds, Presidential Elections

Trayvon Martin and The Republican Contenders

From The Hill

In my mind, what is most important about the contest in Illinois — and which most certainly will affect the general election — is that not one of the Republican contenders for president uttered a word about the apparently racially motivated murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last month.

On Feb. 26, a white Neighborhood Watch volunteer shot and killed Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American. By all accounts, Martin, the victim of this crime, was walking in a gated community after purchasing a bag of Skittles and can of iced tea at a nearby 7-Eleven. Protests have erupted over the failure of the police to arrest the killer, George Zimmerman, even though he has confessed to killing Martin and there was no apparent justification for the shooting. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would investigate the killing.

Illinois is the political home of both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. It would have been an appropriate place to address the continuing problem of hate crimes and racial animus in America. None of the Republican contenders mentioned these issues, and their silence is incomprehensible, particularly in light of recent events.

Obviously, no one should be convicted of a crime in the court of public opinion. However, racial bias appears to have led to the confrontation. It has been reported that on the 911 call tape, Zimmerman states that “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something … they always get away.” If the victim of this killing had been white and the shooter black, it is more likely than not that an arrest would have been made immediately. Again, how is it that not one of the candidates has yet to even utter a statement of outrage?

The Republican Party of yesteryear was birthed in the moral crusade to abolish slavery. It was President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who abolished slavery. Has today’s Republican Party simply forgotten the notion of “malice toward none” and “charity for all,” as Lincoln once said?

All Americans need to know that government will protect them regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender. African-Americans and all people of color need to know that anyone running for the highest office of the land will not remain silent when our young black men are killed.

America has come far since the days of Jim Crow, but racial injustice remains. It is immoral to stand silent when a 17-year-old black male like Trayvon Martin pays the ultimate price of racism.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.

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