a picture of a gavel

Although Trayvon Martin’s tragic death and the accompanying circumstances should cause Americans to question how far we have come on racial issues in the past few generations, I am cynical about the motivations of some of those who have shown up in Sanford, Fla. to lead the protests and call attention to this atrocity.

I want to see justice done in this case, as do the people picketing the police stations and city council meetings. I am upset about Trayvon’s murder and that nothing seems to have been done about it yet; however, I am also upset at those people who always seem to use these tragedies to further their brand and get themselves up on the stage.

As a black man, I have attended many marches and protests over the years believing that I was participating in a movement promoting the advancement of civil rights. I have often left these rallies early in disgust when I realized that the cause for which we were marching was being overshadowed by those who had turned the protest into an audition to be the next Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather than furthering the message and the cause, these wannabe pastors and drama mammas are only interested in promoting themselves.

I don’t want to be too harsh on our cause. I am interested in the causes and movements these agitators co-opt for their benefit I do not want to listen to these peoples’ rabble babble. All the inflammatory rhetoric and racebaiting verbiage used by these so-called spokesmen mucks up the waters and prevents a civil discourse on the realities of racism.

Whenever I see Al Sharpton show up on some courthouse steps or in front of some victim’s house, I remember Tawana Brawley. I am reminded of how his racially charged speeches stirred up a firestorm of outrage only to be subsequently exposed as more fiction than fact. This behavior is no different than the outright lies and stereotypes told by the racists on the other side.

When I hear Jesse Jackson comparing the tragedy of Trayvon Martin to the lynching of Emmitt Till, I realize that many of our leaders are more willing to grab headlines and make inaccurate analogies to draw attention to themselves than to engage in an open and honest discussion about race. Let’s be very clear: the murder of Trayvon Martin and the lynching of Emmitt Till may have some similar aspects in that the victim was a young black man killed by someone who was not black and who was not immediately charged with the killing. But, the similarities between the cases end there. In the lynching of Emmitt Till, the entire community and culture was complicit. In the shooting of Trayvon Martin, one individual committed a heinous act and the community has erupted in outrage over the handling of the case.

All such rhetoric distracts Americans from the true discussion that needs to happen about the double standard in the American psyche concerning black men and crime. Most Americans presume black men are guilty until they are able to prove their innocence. But, when a crime is committed against a black man by someone who is not black, the perpetrator is innocent in the minds of most Americans until proven guilty.

I worry that all of the outrage over Trayvon’s death will fade as people become fatigued by all the conspiratorial rhetoric thrown about by those who seek to promote themselves. But more than this, I fear that the changes that our society needs to make in the wake of such a disaster will never be earnestly undertaken as long as those in the spotlight are more concerned with generating sound bites than they are with fully examining the issues at hand.