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'Institutional Racism is Killing Young Black People'

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old walking through a Sanford, Fla., community, has captured national attention. Martin was shot on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a member of a local neighborhood watch group, who told police he shot the teenager in self-defense after calling 911 to report a suspicious person.

Questions about the handling of the case have resulted in the Justice Department, the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement joining the investigation. Mostly recently, the Sanford police chief stepped down and Florida's governor announced a new state attorney and task force to respond to the case.

The case has caused angst and outrage, particularly in the African American community.

"If you listen closely to the content to the 911 calls, it seems pretty clear to me that Mr. Zimmerman's actions were based on the fact that Trayvon was black. He thinks he's suspicious because he was black and wearing a hoodie. He thinks he's not supposed to be there because he's black, and he thinks he's engaged in some criminal activity, basically because he's black. Now, whether or not he shot him because he's black, I think is indicated by the fact that he made all those other decisions based on the fact that he profiled this young man in the very last minutes of his life," said James Peterson, director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University, in a recent interview with WNYC.

"The pain in the African American community around the Trayvon murder case goes back into our history," Peterson said. "You see people making the analogy to Emmett Till, but you don't have to go back that far to understand the ways in which, not just the police institution, but institutional racism itself is killing young black people."

Peterson added: "We've got to raise more national awareness about the ways in which institutional racism infects our criminal justice system. And, in this case, what's happening is there's a bleed-off. It's bleeding over into, not just into vigilantism, but the neighborhood watch's sensibilities. So when we have institutional racism, we're essentially endorsing things like racial profiling and the kind of attitude Mr. Zimmerman shows in the calls and in his interactions with Trayvon right up into the few minutes before he passed away, or before he was killed."

Peterson also was interviewed on MSNBC's Ed Show , Ebru TV , and WHYY's Radio Times about the case.

Story by Sally Gilotti

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012

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