As we mourn the death of Trayvon Martin, we should take the time to remember another 17-year-old black youth murdered just four years ago. On March 2, 2008, high school senior Jamiel Shaw was gunned down in Los Angeles. According to police, Shaw was walking home when two men he had never met jumped out of a car and one shot him. A talented football player, Shaw had scholarship offers from Stanford University and Rutgers. The man who shot him was Petro Espinoza, an illegal immigrant and member of a gang with a history of extensive violence against African Americans. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Espinoza had been released from jail 28 hours before the shooting, after serving time for an earlier [violent] offense.”
Why did the nation not mourn Jamiel the way we are mourning Trayvon? Was it because the media knew immediately that Shaw’s killers were Latino, not white?
The slaying of Trayvon Martin opened a Pandora’s Box of emotions in the black community. Blacks of my generation remember all too well when one of our own could be lynched by whites, and law enforcement would look the other way. Those were terrible times in our nation’s history, and Trayvon’s death provoked many to assert that nothing had changed.
I am deeply sympathetic to the outrage felt by blacks over this tragedy, but I must point out that this is not our grandparents’ world. Things have changed, as the most basic facts of this case reveal. When this story broke, the media led us to believe that Trayvon had been hunted down like a dog by a skinhead white supremacist gun nut. In reality, Trayvon’s killer, like 16.3% of the United States’ population, was Latino. He was relatively light skinned, but hardly a wealthy child of white privilege and certainly not a member of a Latino gang known for violence against blacks as Shaw’s killer was. To the degree that race was involved in this crime, its involvement was undoubtedly complex - far too complex for reporters determined to fit the tragedy into their predetermined narrative.
For decades both the media and politicians have tried to lump blacks and Latinos together, as if individuals from both groups automatically share common history and interests. Latinos are grouped with blacks far more often than with Asian Americans, even though they often share the experience of immigration and learning English as a second language. Yet an honest look at the slayings of Martin and Shaw challenge the notion that blacks and Latinos are interchangeable minorities whose differences aren’t worth noting or exploring.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.