SWM-001: The Trials and Tribulations of the Trayvon Martin Case, with Professor Ron Mincy

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Communications Director Mary-Lea Cox Awanohara interviews Ronald B. Mincy, Maurice V. Russell Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice, about his responses to one of the biggest news stories of the summer: the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

 

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Background information & key points:

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  • Professor Mincy's mixture of feelings—from anger and sadness to disappointment and frustration—at the news of the trial’s outcome (“tragic on so many levels”); and the uphill struggle he and other researchers on black males have had in arousing the American public about the risks faced by black men and boys in American society, which have existed for decades (“I have a sort of jaundiced view about this”).
  • The significance of the fact that the public outcry against the American criminal justice system—the feeling that there is something wrong with a system that enables a teenager to be shot and killed by someone who isn’t even an official law enforcer and then be acquitted on that score—was widespread: "It was not held exclusively by the black community or black men."
  • President Obama’s statement on the trial outcome and his “Trayvon race speech.”
  • Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense laws: were they created for racist reasons?
  • The extent to which the shooting of Trayvon Martin fits the definition of “death by legal intervention”—one of the primary causes of death of young black men, according to the findings of Mincy’s 2006 book, Black Males Left Behind.
  • The call to boycott Disney World and other businesses in Florida, to create political and economic pressure to overturn the stand-your-ground legislation and make the public sphere safer for young black men (notably, such boycotts were used effectively during the Civil Rights Movement to draw attention to discriminatory laws and practices).
  • The odds of young black men making it out of poverty (more than half don’t make it out of high school) and the extraordinary incarceration rates for young black men, along with the lag in public awareness about this issue: “We knew the likelihood of a third of young black men being incarcerated in the 1980s."
  • The need to raise the level of our conversation on these issues and encourage people to say: “I’m a survivor of racial profiling”; and the likelihood of a national public dialogue taking place.
  • A few words of advice for the Columbia University School of Social Work’s Achievement Initiative, which is helping two high schools in Harlem (“Build on the lessons of the past”; check out the campaign for Black Male Achievement at Open Society Institute).
  • The progress he has seen in the past ten years in CUSSW’s awareness of issues facing young black men—Mincy says he agrees with President Obama that “younger cohorts of Americans are not as racially balkanized.”
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