On Inequality: In remembrance of Trayvon Martin
Tyreta Foster | 7/29/2013, 10:14 a.m. | Updated on 7/29/2013, 10:14 a.m.
Will there be justice for Martin? I wonder. My former law school dean John Sexton always said that “law is definition.” Well, how do you define "justice"? After four years at Harvard University, where I was a student in professor Michael Sandel’s justice course, and three years at New York University School of Law, I still don’t know how to define justice. In the aftermath of the verdict and the legal morass that will ensue, a Black child will still have been hunted and killed, his possibilities as well as his voice snatched away and his killer set free, the beneficiary of de facto skin-color apartheid.
I miss Gil Noble, the author of "Black is the Color of My TV Tube" and former television host of "Like It Is," and my late, great distinguished law professor Derrick Bell. Yes, rest in peace Andrew Breitbart; I too hugged Derrick Bell. Given the unjust and unwarranted killing of Martin, as long as it wasn’t pre-empted for the must-see golf matches, Gil’s show would have undoubtedly featured the case each week, from the first week of Martin’s death, to the verdict and thereafter. Critical race theorist Bell would have lent his gravitas, his soft-spoken yet undeniably powerful voice and legal analysis to the goings-on in the case. The day after the verdict, I went in search of a huge rally at the State Office Building—after all, Harlem has a critical mass of young Black boys. Instead, I sat at the base of the statue of the late Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., feeling hurt and empty, longing for my dad and the other greats who have passed on.
The murder of Martin and the acquittal of his killer screams that we have not transcended race after the election of Obama twice over. Many of us already knew this, but for those of us who don’t, the tragedy that is Martin is the death knell of that fantasy. While the president courageously broke his shackles of political correctness, decorum and the undue restraint of his office and gave a 19 minute monologue on race, the experiences of 17-year-old Obama and Martin and spoke to his shared sadness and the quiet rage of the Black community, arguably, the leader of the free world is still treated as a Black boy in America. Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman has called for the president to be “spanked,” and at least two other U.S. legislators have shaken their fingers in Obama’s face in a condescending and disrespectful manner. Given this context, what would justice for Martin truly look like?
My Harlem-based law firm is flanked by two public schools. I watch the way the police interact with Black and Hispanic children every day. The way law enforcement forces kids off the block at 2:30 p.m., it’s as if they are being prepped for the prison yard. While I am not a parent, I have repeatedly questioned the police and intervened when necessary. Ironically, the common retort of police officers when I have inquired about this corralling of Black and Hispanic children and stated that this was not the practice when I was a teenager, is that whereas it isn’t necessary to do this on the Upper East Side, there are multiple schools in this area, and there are "bad kids." Somehow, I think there are more “bad adults” then there are “bad kids” in this world. In fact, my law firm partner, Angelica Thomas, and I have given the keynote address at the commencement ceremonies of two "failing" schools in New York City. Our conclusion was, we have failed our children. Every single adult in the land has failed our nation’s children.