We must take off colored glasses

| Thursday, April 19, 2012

George Zimmerman is finally in a Florida jail facing second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. That was all Martin's parents wanted in the first place.

It took about a month and a half, along with taking any remaining disillusionment that race is no longer an issue in our country.

After Zimmerman's arrest, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that although 91 percent of black Americans thought Martin was killed unjustly, only 35 percent of whites felt the same. Fifty-nine percent of Hispanics -- Zimmerman is part Hispanic -- agree that Martin, who was black, was unjustly shot.

Several readers have doubted the role of race, both in the incident and in our reaction to it.

But it is still unclear what it was about Martin that Zimmerman found suspicious. Yes, there were a series of break-ins in the neighborhood, and the suspects were black. But from what we understand, Martin wasn't carrying any stolen items, just a pack of Skittles and some iced tea that he purchased from a nearby store.

Those poll numbers are interesting, though, aren't they• The unfortunate thing about the injection of race in this case is that the basic premise was lost.

A man fatally shoots an unarmed teenager under questionable circumstances and initially is not charged. People are shot and killed every day, but rarely do we know the identity of the perpetrator and he remains free. Throw race into any issue, and it muddies the basics.

For example, a man is accused of killing his wife and a friend. After five days (and a very slow getaway attempt), he's arrested and charged with first-degree murder. There is a good amount of circumstantial evidence against him. There are no eyewitnesses, however, and he is acquitted.

After the man is freed, a Gallup poll suggests that 73 percent of white Americans thought the man was guilty of murder, while only 27 percent of blacks thought so. O.J. Simpson, of course, is black and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were white. Most spectators determine that the true events of the night of the murders in 1995 will never be known.

In the Zimmerman case, a solid majority of whites, blacks and Hispanics polled agree that no one will ever know what really happened that night in February.

How can we see things so differently• We are given the same information for the most part, but it would appear that as a country, we see through colored glasses.

Here we are, a country led by a president of mixed race and with divisions that have changed little since 1995. What does this say about us?

The answer probably lies in the fact that our viewpoints are shaped by the complicated racial history of our country. That's understandable, but what's the cost?

If Simpson, Brown Simpson and Goldman were all white, would whites have been so sure of his guilt• If Martin and Zimmerman were both black, would blacks care as much about his shooter?

And do our skewed viewpoints blur the empathy we should have for victims of violence• The unnecessary and early loss of life is the basic issue here, and we are missing it.

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