Over the past few weeks, two stories have dominated the media, and while they happened in different places and with different people, they are very much related.
The first happened in Afghanistan. On March 10, a U.S. soldier killed 17 innocent Afghans — including children.
The second was the shooting of Trayvon Martin a Hispanic, self-appointed neighborhood watchman in George Zimmerman.
How do these two events relate? I believe both shine a light on the how the rules of engagement of our country’s military, police and citizens allow much greater leniency in killing people of color.
In Afghanistan, The story is an American officer allegedly went into a village and shot women, children, and men of a different race, culture and religions — perhaps out of mental stress or illness.
Yet in his military experiences, he was trained to kill, to dehumanize the “enemy,” and to believe the logic behind his cause is just.
The issue is the military’s teaching killing civilians is just “collateral damage” necessary to complete the objective.
Those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan said this happened often, but is “a cost of doing business.”
In Florida, Martin is another example of someone killing an unarmed man of a different race — a race that has long suffered discrimination in America.
In our country, the killing of black people, men especially, by law enforcement happens far more often than many of us acknowledge.
Fear, a sense of protecting his identity, and a belief in the rightness of his decision to shoot were surely a part of Zimmerman pulling the trigger under the “stand your ground” Florida law.
But this isn’t a unique law. Groups and individuals all over the world have exploited such laws, targeting every minority in the book.
Individual state and local law enforcement agencies set policies and procedures regarding when and how to use deadly force. In military or police operations, the rules of engagement dictate when, where, how, and against whom, force may be used.
In both examples, the rules of engagement also indicate what forms of action and measures of force are appropriate and acceptable.
I see these rules, policies and procedures as much more lax in the justification of the killing of people who aren’t white.
Those who write the rules, those who enforce them and those who prosecute them have been steeped in the societal conditioning of racial and prejudicial thought.
When confronted with determining what may signify hostile intent or hostile action, security enforcement is very likely to operate under the prejudicial assumption a black person is hostile or ill-intentioned.
The military, law enforcement, our culture, and our language reinforce a quick labeling of an individual by a nickname or euphemism to numb the fact someone is taking the life of another.
By reducing a person from a complex, multifaceted, ever-changing human being to a “menace,” or a “thug,” it makes it much easier to oppress or kill.
Our rules of engagement, policies, laws, and legal proceedings suggest harming a black person is more permissible and less objectionable.
The response is very different, however, if you are white, powerful or rich.
And very importantly, they set the consequences for harming or killing a person of color as far less severe, if any at all.
In my Christian and Quaker belief, I strive to see and relate to “that of God” in each person, viewing each as a creation of God and as having “that of God.”
Rules of engagement are devaluing the lives and humanity of people of color. But we, as a collective entity, the institutional and systemic racism.
Martin’s dad has said, “I want his death to have an impact. I want it to be known Trayvon made a difference.”
There is a window here for Trayvon’s death to make a huge difference.