CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bitter, painful, depressing racial torments were loosed by the Trayvon Martin case. The jury's innocent verdict implied that it's natural for an armed white vigilante to suspect criminality when he sees a black teen wearing a hoodie at night -- and that it's acceptable for the vigilante to follow the teen, get into a confrontation, and shoot the black youth to death.
If the armed vigilante had been black, and the 17-year-old victim white, the case would have been vastly different.
President Obama voiced the lament of millions of black American males when he said that he, too, once felt the sting of suspicious looks from whites who assumed he was "up to no good," as the vigilante said about young Martin.
Right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh called the black president "reprehensible" for expressing his feelings. But Obama was speaking honestly about reality in America. Too many whites see blacks as lesser and menacing.
Oddly, "stand your ground" self-defense laws have a hidden racial tinge, subconsciously implying that armed whites may shoot blacks if they feel threatened. Since Florida pioneered these "shoot first" laws in 2005, the Tampa Bay Times researched 200 cases and found that gun-wielders who shot blacks were freed at a higher rate than those who shot whites (73 percent, compared to 59 percent).
Florida International University law professor Joelle Moreno wrote:
"Since enactment of the 'stand your ground' law, concealed weapons permits in Florida have tripled and now exceed 1.1 million. This has happened during a time when violent crime in the United States has decreased by more than 15 percent. In Florida, despite a growing population, violent crime is down 25 percent."
She said that, "despite all of the evidence to the contrary," Florida leaders and the gun lobby have convinced residents "that they must stand their ground, armed to the teeth, against a scourge of violent crime." She said the state is "encouraging near-universal gun ownership and endorsing vigilante self-defense."
She added: "We live in a country where three people die from gunshots every hour, and where the slaughter of elementary school children fails to generate support for even the most modest gun control. We also live in a country where more expansive self-defense laws have tragic outcomes because our threat perceptions are determined by the race, ethnicity, age and gender of those we have learned to fear."
Attorney General Eric Holder said: "It's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflicts in our neighborhoods."
Racial overtones can be heard in this national debate. We doubt that Florida's Republican legislators ever intended for blacks to carry loaded pistols and stand their ground.
Young Americans have less prejudice than older generations. We pray that U.S. society someday will become so colorblind that tragic cases like this won't rouse racial worries.