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A Trayvon Martin Tribute

Dr. Richard Curwin

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College
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The tragic death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida reminded me of an incident that happened four years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area where racism reared its ugly head to a black teenager on his way to school.

I was working with a charter school, the Impact Academy of Hayward, and was there on that morning when two gunmen stole a car and were attempting armed robberies near the school. While in pursuit of the gunmen, the police mistook a 14-year-old student of the school for one of them. Dwayne, a charming, warm and easygoing young man, was shoved to the ground and handcuffed. Six police officers aimed their weapons at him and demanded that he not move. Jen Davis Wickens, the superb school principal, saw this incident and ran out to tell the police that they had the wrong person, but the officers held Dwayne on the ground for about another half hour before releasing him. One might expect Dwayne to have been upset and angry, but instead, as he told me in a private discussion, "I'm not mad. This happens to me in my neighborhood all the time." Although I am grateful for the diligence of the police in making a split-second decision that may have prevented an armed criminal from getting loose in the school, the possibility of racial profiling and the officers' refusal to immediately release Dwayne are very bothersome.

In a community meeting with all the students, Principal Wickens asked how many other students had experienced being wrongly accused. Far too many indicated an affirmative answer. For most educators, this is hard to imagine. Few of us have ever been wrongly accused of a crime or had six guns pointed at our heads. After an incident like this, is it even possible to get back to teaching and learning math and science?*

We have come a long way in America fighting racism, but lest we think we are close enough to reconciliation to congratulate ourselves, we need to remember communities like Hayward, California and Sanford, Florida. Every teacher and administrator in America must model, practice and insist upon fighting racism at every opportunity. Trayvon Martin must not be forgotten, and incidents like this must stop once and for all.

*This story originally appeared in Curwin, Mendler and Mendler, Discipline with Dignity, 3rd Edition: New Challenges, New Solutions (ASCD 2010).

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Dr. Richard Curwin

Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

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M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Dr. Curwin, perhaps you need to review the facts revealed via the police investigation. Trayvon Martin was no "innocent" kid and that George Zimmerman was justified in defending himself.

from the Orlando Sentinel

Don't fall for the tricks of the race-baiting mass media who use preferential judgment in determining whose lives are worth based on the coverage they grant.

Do you know who David James was? He was a father from Florida who was shot to death by Trevor Dooley during a a struggle to disarm Dooley, who brought a loaded weapon onto city park property to intimidate those who were skateboarding on a tennis court. James was shot in the heart in front of his 8 year old daughter, who now has to live for the rest of her life with that tragic memory.

David James was unarmed. Trevord Dooley was packing a loaded handgun and crossed beyond his personal property borders onto municipal property.

2010 Tampa park shooting

You don't read much about THAT case, do you? Of course you don't, because the mainstream media isn't interested in reporting on black on white crime.

Florida has a "Stand Your Ground" law. Trevor Dooley has been protected by it. Very few people seem to want to allow George Zimmerman the same defense.

Do you think this is right? Why should one death be elevated above another?

Dr. Richard Curwin's picture
Dr. Richard Curwin
Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you about two things. I do not know the factual events of what happened in Sanford, Fla. and I never heard of the David James case. There are many cases that neither one of us has heard about. But my point was more about racism in America. I strongly believe that race played a role in Trayvon's death. But that aside, Americans seems to think that racism is declining. After all look at all the minorities in positions of power, the arts, even TV commercials. I believe its not declining fast or far enough, that before we congratulate ourselves, we must do a lot more work in this regard. Maybe if more people like you spoke out against injustice on racial crime, whichever way it goes, we can deal reduce all racial tragedies. Once again I say that its time long overdue for racism to stop.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Dr. Curwin: I'm gathering that what you most object to is profiling based on race and mode of dress. I have taught at-risk urban students in the past and I know that the hoodie's primary function in the urban culture is to help one evade detection, rather than the be used for the traditional manner of keeping the head warm in cold temperatures. Also, you should investigate FBI stats regarding arrests. Blacks represent a disproportionate number involved in robbery and homicide arrests when compared to the Caucasian population.

People in good decent neighborhoods are tired of the being at the mercy of criminals. They have to take matters in their own hands because police forces in the US are being cut due to budget restraints. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of people that have to live in fear of criminals in areas where police are ineffective.

The question of where were Trayvon's parents prior to all this when he was being suspended and disciplined for his various infractions should be asked. I don't hear anything from his parents accepting any responsibility for that. Again, I taught enough kids in urban areas and it was the same thing. It's always someone else's fault. Taking personal responsibility is rare. You can't when you play the victim card. If Trayvon's parents had any true character, they'd admit that they failed as parents and this was the tragic result of that failure.

Kinda85's picture

Dr. Curwin, Racisim is alive and well. The Trayvon Martin incident is a prime example of this. It doesnt matter if Trayvon had trouble in school or with his parents. This does not determine an individuals criminability. George Zimmerman saw rce first, a black man walking in a neighborhood he believed he did not belong in.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

If Trayvon Martin had not acted like a suspicious individual and offered George Zimmerman thug-like responses to the question of "what is your business in this gated community?" then perhaps he would still be alive today.

How a kid conducts their life is a prime indicator of what kind of person they'll be. As one who has tried to teach adjudicated youth from urban environments, I know. I have taught dozens of kids like Trayvon Martin and they rarely stray from the pattern of hatred for everything that's decent and good about life. Trayvon Martin's parents are as much to blame. So how is it that no one is holding them responsible?

I'll tell you why ... because too many people are cowards.

You're correct, kinda85, racism is still alive and well. That's another adjunct to the cowardly mentality in this nation regarding urban crime. Note the under-reported news out of Sanford PL and now Toledo OH of white citizens being purposely attacked by black youth in retribution for Trayvon Martin. Why isn't this news being blasted to the forefront of the national headlines? Because the mainstream liberal press doesn't care to report on black on white crime. They'd rather cover race-baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and report their incendiary rhetoric without criticism or condemnation for provoking violence.

You wonder why racism and divisiveness exist in America? There is a prime example.

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