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Gary Horton: America must strive towards justice for all

Posted: July 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Just days after the Trayvon Martin verdict, President Obama shared his personal thoughts, providing a glimpse into the man who inhabits a very strange, singular space in America between white and black and extreme privilege and prejudice:

"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happened to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often."

One could hear a sad sigh as the President aspirated these words. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit we’ve seen these things or done have these things.

Bias and prejudice, sometimes born of upbringing, sometimes from personal experience, continues on in America, decades after the civil rights movement dismantled formal, institutional racism.

Yet honest thinkers also recognize how much progress has been made. It is as though America is at the half way marker in a marathon race towards full social justice.

Obama observed: "Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country."

Indeed, from sports to the military to universities around the country, race barriers have been thrown into trash heaps of history, to be looked back at by our youth in wonderment how these things were ever suffered in the first place.

Not bad for a couple of generation’s effort, and America should rightly be proud of its progress from its retrograde, repulsive racist past of human slavery, just 160 years ago.

But can you imagine the indignity and outrageousness of your good neighbors or sports heroes held as slaves in forced labor in our country!

While we’ve indeed come a very long way, in slavery, America was so very, very far behind. In our path forward, artifacts and oversights of racism and injustice stubbornly remain.

So when a 17 year old black packing Skittles, wearing a hoodie as protection from the evening rain gets profiled in a mostly white Florida suburb and the kid gets killed and the killer goes scot-free, it’s understandable how blacks recoil as old fears rocket to the surface.

Institutional racism may be gone, but racist bias remains, and that bias wasted a 17-year-old life. This time it was a killing, but next time it’s a passed-over job opportunity or a police stop or a conviction that shouldn’t have been.

It might just be tension when by now we could have learned to just get along.

Trayvon Martin struck a nerve, and if nothing else is made from the loss, he spawned much needed debate about where we are and what’s left to do.

While American institutional racism is gone, we remain frustrated as black kids commit crimes at three times the rate of whites, or why they are incarcerated at multiples the frequency and harshness.

Thoughtful ones will consider we’ve never cured the ills of economic and educational disadvantage that reinforces generational poverty, creating a despair and hopelessness that spawns recurring, debilitating crime and economic dependency.

"Desperate people do desperate things," we know. Take away the despair and the desperate acts of crime and violence fade. Build good jobs and pride returns.

Decades of affirmative actions have surely helped, but some of this, too, has become dysfunctional — and new paths must be forged to lift the poorest of us from poverty, poor education, and want.

Yet ultra-conservatives would go back in time where all minorities were less seen and heard — as if their disappearance would also cure the problem.

Days before the Trayvon verdict, the Supreme Court, led by arch-conservative Scalia, gutted the Voting Rights Act which had protected Southern Blacks from state-sponsored racism.

The very day of that decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot said the state’s prohibited Voter ID law would immediately be implemented, greatly impeding that state’s poor from voting. Race-slanted redistricting is also underway.

Other southern states are following suit.

America is not walking a straight nor certain line towards racial and social equality.

Minorities are surely right in their insistence to keep pressuring the country ahead.

And while forces collide and tempers may flare — and while black kids are stalked by unknown cars at dusk and women in elevators remain nervous with their purses, America must still determinedly finish what we’ve started — and social justice must absolutely prevail.

For without continued progressive efforts ending generational poverty with all its causes, America’s gangs and crime and decay — and lingering racism — will persist — while prisons and welfare rolls further fill.

President Obama concluded:

"… We have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey… We’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union."

Thank you, Mr. President. I know America can muster the determination to achieve great goal of equality and justice for all.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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