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Associated Press
Lakeshea Hall attends a candlelight vigil for slaying victim Trayvon Martin at the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Fla., on Sunday.

Defeating the retreat view

Post-racial America remains our great unfulfilled dream

“And here we are 10,000 miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home they can’t hardly live on the same block together.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

March 31, 1968

No one sitting in the National Cathedral that morning listening to a sermon about our nation’s racial and social futility could have dreamed that just four days later King’s assassination would send him into his date with eternity.

And yet here we are 44 years later, and in some instances we are fighting the same dilemma that seems to have only grown greater. We have elected our first black president but are still wrestling with damaging racial precedent.

Just when conservatives were claiming equality had finally been poured from America’s carton, we were introduced to the lax murder investigation of a young man named Trayvon Martin. And while the conservative talk shows are filled with references to protests being led by those they deem “race-baiters,” they ignore the reality that these individuals would have no constituency if there were no “race-haters.”

Now, reasonable people would concede that upon arriving at a potential crime scene, it’s at best disingenuous to unilaterally accept the version that’s playing out on the pistol-holding person’s screen. If the 911 call says the one with the gun was following the victim around, then how can he now shift to be claiming to simply standing his ground? To imply the story was believable because he was wearing a wet shirt dismisses the possibility of him lying himself down in the dirt. Anyone who felt threatened by a can of iced tea and a bag of candy is certainly capable of developing a story that’s a dandy.

But that could not be the thought because far too often some white police officers allow their minds to travel a predetermined route. And yes, in the spirit of fairness, some black officers seem to think their shield is an instrument to be used for abuses in the field. But that’s another column.

In an ironic twist of fate, the Martin homicide took place at an address that reads like an invitation to hate: “1111 Retreat View Circle.” And that’s what George Zimmerman was determined to do; to keep his community in a retreat view. A view that says, in the words of Carter G. Woodson, that “it does not matter how often a Negro washes his hands, then, he cannot clean them, and it does not matter how often a white man uses his hands, he cannot soil them.” A retreat view, where in the words of Debra J. Dickerson, “whites insist on seeing themselves as America and entitled; therefore, to equate their good with the common good, their preferences with justice. Deviation from their preferences is inherently dangerous, fragmentary, and wrong.” A retreat view, where one Zimmerman decided this young black man was out of place and invading his space, so he decided to take him out and created a scenario with no evidence to trace.

He’s using the usual alarm that “a black man was about to do me harm.” We should be tired of hearing this same old song when history tells us it’s almost always wrong. We should be tired of people who operate from a dangerous set of assumptions that continue to lead us down the path of racial disruptions. We must rid our nation of this immoral psychology that continues to denigrate people based on their racial biology. We must abandon our nice and safe-sounding phrases and concede that we are still stuck in some racially unseemly phases. We must move from retreat view and repeat view or forever be destined to live in defeat view.

The Rev. Bill McGill is the senior pastor at Imani Baptist Temple and former president of the local NAACP. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.