The tragic cost of racial profiling

Thanks to social media and the mounting cries of outrage by countless Americans of every race, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin will be investigated.

Last month in Florida, Martin, a 17-year-old African American, was walking back to his father’s home in a gated community when a Neighborhood Watch volunteer started following. Trayvon was later shot and killed by Zimmerman

The ugly truth, of which many black Americans have been painfully aware, is that young black males have long been the victims of racial profiling.

During prayer and reflection over this tragic incident, I was reminded of a young black man named Jeff, who was a veteran and recent college graduate, whose story has never been told. In the early 1980s, he spent a few weeks in our Washington, D.C. home while he was relocating from Alabama to the area for work.

Eventually, Jeff moved into a suburban Maryland apartment complex. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for an attempted break-in in his building. When arrested, he was disoriented but had neither weapons nor equipment for breaking and entering.

As he had no family in the area, he was rescued by co-workers after he spent the better part of a week in the local county jail. They found that Jeff was obviously unwell and rushed him to the local VA hospital, where doctors determined that Jeff had suffered a brain aneurysm sometime before his arrest. His sister in Alabama was contacted and arrived in time to be with her brother when he passed away.

This man — a veteran — was not a criminal; he was a sick man. He wasn’t trying to break into anyone’s apartment. He was confused and ill and trying to find his way home.

I wonder if this young black veteran with a promising future would be alive today if he was recognized as someone who needed medical help rather than treated like a criminal.

Whether, the situation involves an armed neighborhood watchman or a local police department that arrests a black man for attempted burglary — for trying to enter what he thought was his own home — the case illustrates that racial profiling is still alive and well in 2012. Sadly, the tragic human cost of racial profiling continues to be paid by young black men, sometimes women, and their families.

My prayer is that out of our anger and passion, justice will reign. I pray that our pain will be transformed into healing and that out of prejudice and fear, our human family will become graced with love and understanding. I pray that the souls of Trayvon and Jeff rest peacefully in eternity in the loving arms of our Lord and Savior.


Corlis L. Sellers is associate director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Black Catholics, liaison to the Bishop for the Black Catholic Ministry Commission and coordinator of the Racial Justice Commission for the Diocese of Camden.

Categories: As I See It

About Author