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A Most Violent Year #blacklivesmatter

Grant, Bell, Martin, Nelson, Diallo, King, Brown, Gurly, Scott, Garner.........and now Freddie Gray.  Outrage faded after all of these tragedies.  Constant reminders of unnecessary deaths with a common thread of black men killed by police, abuse of power and a legal system that fails to protect rights equally have been building up over the past two years in the media, but for decades for African Americans.  The details of the Freddie Gray death will play itself out, but the more times this happens, the less it matters whether the circumstances were justified or not.  People are dying and it becomes more evident that it could happen to you, if you're African American with any interaction with law enforcement.

To deny race as a factor of the Trayvon Martin murder grand jury was the most shady detail in the Zimmerman trial because it established motive.  Zimmerman's bias led to pursuing, confronting, shooting and killing a 17 year old young man.  I could literally go over the Travon Martin killing until I'm blue in the face, but I think 2014 and 2015 are symbolically violent years that should be put in historic context.  It will continue unless something is done by every individual who sees and understands the problem.

Every day is an opportunity to look within ourselves to see if there is anything we can do to make a change.  We won't always be ready for change, but I hope more and more people are moving toward that point with all of the media coverage and now that people are finally paying attention..

Stereotypes based on socio-economic status of young black men is not breaking news, but historically knit into the United States of Amerikkka.  These stereotypes include young black men are poor, uneducated, thieves, violent, "up to no good", hooligans, thugs and dangerous in many ways.  These stereotypes alter the perception of African American men in real life and it's noticeable from body language and facial expressions of other ethnicities.  It's also evident in the reaction of law enforcement to African Americans.  Polls and don't give disclaimers pointing out that not all African Americans fall into their conclusions.  Society at large accepts statistical information and is comfortable using it as justification for prejudging African Americans by all races.  By now, we should be able to know the difference between poll summaries and knowing the circumstances of individual lives. Not all black people are the same and anyone that finds themselves saying, "look at how African Americans act during riots" as justification for police brutality need to unlearn their past.

Baltimore Riots, 1968

Baltimore Riots, 1968

I don't see anything more harmful than a person that's unwilling to look within themselves when it affects the lives of others.  The main problem with this is that black racism is not integrated into the power structure of the United States and it doesn't cover up patterns of targeted murders of white, Asian or Hispanic people.  Lack of reflection and honestly discussing racial opinions plays a huge part in white privilege being a difficult problem to solve.  Jurors of the George Zimmerman case would have to indict themselves and confront their own racism in order to convict Zimmerman.  I don't see many people willing to do this and it doesn't happen unless it affects their life directly.  The majority of people don't want to fear us when they are out in the world.  Good intentions don't erase fear when people walk down the street and there is a group of young black men walking behind them.  It also doesn't prevent people from being afraid of me when I am walking to a store at night.  I'm a father, artist and an architect, which I would think makes me less threatening, but it doesn't.  It doesn't change the misconception that every black neighborhood is the ghetto either.

Race makes people defensive and outraged but different races manifest their rage and outrage differently.  I am convinced people don't remember what racism is anymore.  It's polarizing effect causes emotional reactions and prevents common sense from taking the drivers seat.  Defensiveness prevents productive conversations that would make all of our lives better, so why can't we move past our own defensiveness in 2015?  President Obama appropriately called for a time of reflection during the Zimmerman trial but our society doesn't really understand why we need to reflect, so it fell on deaf ears.  Racism isn't always an outward hatred of everyone in a specific race.  Having racist thoughts doesn't automatically mean you're a terrible person and that you hate any specific race either.  Racism is making judgements that make race the determining factor for behavior or circumstances.  Identifying racism can be as simple as catching yourself saying something that you know does not apply to a whole race, but may apply to a certain portion of that race.  If you believe race determines behavior, then it's pretty safe to say you're racist.  Saying "all" or making blanket statements about other races or your own is racism.  Once you acknowledge your own racism, it's up to  you to challenge it and make a conscious decisions to change yourself and the important people in your life.  Moving forward, it's up to you to question your beliefs, meet people that aren't like you and to grow past the stereotypes you've learned.  You decide if it passes on to your children.  This isn't only something that white people need to do.  Everyone needs to do this.  African Americans should work hard to not let the racism they feel directed toward turn into racism as a result.  It's easier said than done, but it's one very important step needed for progress to happen.  Not many people are open about having racist views, and while I disagree there is an obligation to wrong the crimes in history, I think it is everyone's responsibility for the cultural stereotypes, prejudice and unfounded beliefs they perpetuate.

Stereotypes are harmful to everyone because they limit our interactions to historic representations determined by how light reflects off our skin.  It narrows the empathy for other races and damages our self awareness.  Being stuck in the past prevents us from being present in our time, our generation and it prevents us from being in control of our lives.  I've seen plenty of black people that can't dance, Asian people that are bad at math and white people that are bad with their money.  Stereotypes are not truth.  If you're curious enough, you will find examples that prove stereotypes wrong, but you won't find these counter examples if you don't look.  Acknowledging stereotypes doesn't bring Trayvon Martin back, however.  Not all stereotypes are dangerous enough to kill teenagers when they are trying to protect themselves.   The truth is the stereotypes of black men being strong, fast, aggressive, poor and uneducated lead people to fear them before they know anything about them as individuals.  How do I know?  I know because I am a mixed race ex-football player, turned architect/artist/designer.  I've talked people through their stereotypes and only became friends when the light bulb went off.  I've been judged, feared and stereotyped before and when you see it often enough, it's easy to identify.  I've heard racist views from black people, white people, Asian, Hispanic and Africans among others.  I work through my own racist thoughts and learn from people I've met from all over the world.

In my opinion, #justicefortrayvon would be if people had honest conversations with themselves and challenged themselves to think beyond the framework of race.  The revolution can't be televised because it needs to happen in the hearts and minds of millions of people.  The expression and celebration of this revolution is what I'm looking forward to.