Racial profiling can result in devastating consequences, and at its core the George Zimmerman case underscores this. Anyone who thinks this case was not about race is grossly misled.
From the moment that Zimmerman, then 28 and a neighborhood watch volunteer, got out of his car that fateful night of Feb. 26, 2012, he was swept away by his preconceived notion of who he was dealing with. He blatantly disobeyed the 911 dispatcher who emphatically told him not to follow the young male in a hoodie that he was watching suspiciously as the youth walked through a gated townhouse community in a suburb of Orlando, Fla.
The ensuing altercation led to the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, sparking outrage and cries nationwide for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Even the jury that determined there was not enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the teen’s death noted that Zimmerman was guilty of prejudging the boy. The 911 tape had recorded Zimmerman mumbling under his breath, calling the boy one of those "f-ing punks."
Racial profiling is associated with law enforcement, occurring when an officer stops and questions someone solely on the basis of his or her race or ethnicity. And in the United States, being a black teen in particular has become synonymous with crime, resulting in suspicion.
Statistics that show a disturbing percentage of black youths involved in crime seem to validate looking at them with a jaundiced eye.
But consider what law professor Floyd D. Weatherspoon wrote in his study on the racial profiling of African-American males: "If law enforcement agencies focus the enforcement of drug laws toward African-American males, and ignore whites based on stereotypical biases, African-American males will be disproportionately stopped and searched."
Doing so would make it appear as if they are the only segment of the country’s population engaged in criminal drug activities, he wrote.
Occasionally we all do our own version of racial profiling. But what we usually don’t do is confront those whom we have stereotyped. If we feel threatened, we become watchful and careful. If nothing comes of our fear, we go on with our lives.
What makes the racial profiling in the Zimmerman case so horrendous is that it shows all the signs of having been fused with a degree of hatred that Zimmerman could not or would not control.
Trayvon himself was not without prejudices that did not help the situation. When speaking to a friend by cell phone moments before he was shot, he described Zimmerman as a "creepy-ass cracker" who was following him, said the friend who was talking to him at the time. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic. His father is white. His mother is of Peruvian descent.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are drafting bills targeting racial profiling, aiming to get rid of stand-your-ground laws (even though these laws were not used in Zimmerman’s defense) and call for better training of the country’s neighborhood watch volunteers.
Frederica Wilson, the Democrat and member of the black caucus who represents the district where the teen was killed, said, "Until we pass meaningful laws against profiling, Americans will continue to be singled out and arrested for driving while black, shopping while black, walking while black and just plain being black."
Greene, now retired, was an associate editor for Catholic News Service for nearly 22 years.