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Jul-21-2013 21:59printcomments

Minority Rights and the Killing of Trayvon Martin

‘Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty five years ago.’ - US President Barack Obama

Trayvon Martin

(LOS ANGELES) - Race alone is not enough to explain the outcome of the Martin Zimmerman trial. We need also to understand the plight of minority groups qua groups if we are to prevent future tragic killings.


If the notion of human rights is to be all meaningful, it is imperative both that we help African-Americans achieve parity with other groups, and also that we safeguard the existence and identity of minority groups.

Skin color does not, by itself, explain the minority problems of this country -- although many people certainly view minority issues as simply a question of skin color. The white versus black paradigm was long established by the plight of African Americans, who have been profiled as a group since the nation’s foundation, beginning with the enslavement of black Africans, and continued after 1865 by legal segregation.

However Latino and Asian immigration has added a whole new dimension to the idea that minority inequality can be righted by thinking in terms of racial characteristics alone. The reality is that some minority people of color actually out-perform the white majority according to key social indicators. For example, a recent Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends study confirm that the six largest Asian-American groups – Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino Americans– outperform whites in both income levels and educational advancement.

This is not to belittle the seriousness of the discrimination that does take place against Asian-Americans, but only to demonstrate that anti-discrimination laws based upon ethnic characteristics such as hair texture, skin color, or eye shape will never bring an end to minority inequality.

Ironically, George Zimmerman himself is the progeny of a Peruvian mother and white father, which also allows him to claim minority status as a person of color. Stressing the ethnic characteristics of Zimmerman and Martin may actually serve to confuse rather than clarify the problem, because each minority group has unique historical experiences that define it. Some minorities have suffered horrific subjugation, while other minorities have prospered even in the face of certain forms of discrimination.

President Obama last Friday related his own experience with profiling so as to draw attention to the dangers both of racial profiling and also the so-called stand-your-ground laws. These statues have a similar effect in reality to European countries planning and camping legislation, which targets the European Roma (so called Gypsies) under the guise of neutrally-applied laws.

Even if unintentionally, stand-your-ground laws have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, who, as demonstrated by the killing of Trayvon Martin, can be profiled by anyone who feels intimidated at the presence of such a person. President Obama’s response is very much on-point. However, much more is needed.

In addition, human rights standards provide that states must take affirmative actions to protect the existence and identity of their minority groups. This principal was first established by the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations, in its Minority Schools in Albania Advisory Opinion (1935).

The court’s opinion advised that countries provide equality-in-fact to minority groups, rather than merely a paper-equality in the form of anti-discrimination laws. States had to ensure special protection for minority languages, religion, and education.

The court found that all of this was necessary in order to establish equilibrium for minority groups who found themselves in different situations from those in the majority.

Contemporary human rights treaties use ethnic (inclusive of race), linguistic, religious, and national classifications to define a minority.

These conventions encourage states to protect minority culture. Studies have revealed that such protections are critical for minorities to achieve social progress, especially in under-developed, post-colonial societies. This provides an important lesson for African- Americans, whose cultural identity was damaged by their history of both slavery and segregation. Research on minorities confirms that cultural development is a pre-requisite for economic progress.

It also helps to explain the popularity of black leaders such as the late Malcolm X who promoted cultural development as prerequisite to repairing post-segregation damage to African-American-identity and also for strengthening black families.

I would describe African-Americans, and certain other minority groups such as the European Roma as ‘special minorities’.

Such groups do not fit into traditional immigrant, national or indigenous minority group categories. This is a very real problem, because states are uncertain about what kind of policies can help these groups to achieve parity with the majority population. Both African-Americans and European Roma have suffered persecution, including periods of slavery, and both groups are popularly viewed as a largely criminal class.

Given the plight of blacks in the United States, such an approach would help us to refocus the public discussion away from simple anti-discrimination laws toward an Afro-centric approach.

Sadly, at present it is the criminal justice system that, by default, has become the primary vehicle for addressing African-American challenges. Blacks comprise nearly 40% of the prison population, transforming jails into a socially perverted form of black social housing.

Even worse is the fact that, according to the Department of Justice, nearly one half of all homicide victims are black; which, along with other social pathologies such as drug abuse and gang violence, places African-American group survival at- risk.

Trayvon Martin’s memory can be truly honored by a Federal inquiry similar to the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, or Kerner Report that examined causes and solutions to the so called African-American ‘race-riots’ of the 1960s. The Kerner Report’s recommendations were updated in the Eisenhower Foundation’s Millennium Breach Report by former Senator Fred Harris.

A similar blue-ribbon study is necessary to understand the plight of African-Americans, as well as to know how to remedy it. Similar inquiries have been helpful in other countries such as Canada (through her Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), as well as in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (through its High Commissioner on National Minorities Report on the situation of Roma and Sinti) both of which offer some positive suggestions for new policies to aid these minority groups.

A comprehensive understanding of the question is required if we are to remedy the plight of African-Americans. These fellow citizens are affected by a complex array of problems from racial profiling and voter suppression to a slanted criminal justice system and only half- hearted affirmative action.

Unfortunately, it takes generations to untangle complex discriminatory regimes such as the formal segregation of African-Americans. Similar problems were encountered when reforming the reservation system for Aboriginal-Canadians. Furthermore, even once abolished the discriminatory practices created by these regimes are passed down to future generations as social norms that makes racial profiling even more difficult to eradicate.

Nonetheless, Trayvon Martin’s parents deserve nothing less than a comprehensive inquiry to remedy the plight of African-Americans in the United States.


Dr. William K. Barth is the author of On Cultural Rights, The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition published by Martinus Nijhoff. He researched minority groups as an aspect of international human rights at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom

Dr. William K. Barth is a graduate of the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Dr. Barthʼs doctoral thesis entitled On Cultural Rights: The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition, was recently published by Martinus Nijhoff. Prior to initiating his research in Oxford, Dr. Barth served as a senior lawyer for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He received his Master of Public Administration Degree from Harvard Universityʼs John F. Kennedy School of Government (ʼ86) and his Juris Doctor from Loyola University School of Law (ʼ79). He has been a member of the California State Bar in good standing since 1979.

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Anonymous July 25, 2013 12:16 pm (Pacific time)

Luke you sound disenchanted. May I suggest you google black on white, and black on Indian(Hispanic, Asian, etc.) killings since Zimmerman was exonerated. All of those killed, and early this morning not far from your home Luke, a young mother of four was killed in a bakery she was working in by two blacks wearing hoodies, was for what? Payback?. I expect that in the not too distant future a blowback will come that will resolve both the Hispanic black issue, and the white black issues. Obviously the Obama/Holder regime has declared war on non-blacks going back to allowing the voter intimidation in Philly (2008) and elsewhere in 2012, by the black racists to go by, then the fast and furious, the Libya slaughters, the IRS, and on and on. You think that some real black leadership would develop by now, oh well, you had the it's survival time. Amazing how 13% of the population tells the rest of us how f--ed up we are...stupid, really stupid.

Luke Easter July 23, 2013 6:23 am (Pacific time)

Minority Rights is like putting water in your engine and oil in your radiator. There is no such thing. Oh, the phrase is real but the corresponding actions are non-existent. It's like military intelligence. You know, the kind that detected WMD's resulting in deaths, loss of limbs and PTSD by U.S. Forces in a war based on lies. Should Saddam have been taken out? Absolutely! But, based on fact, not on jack. There's a reason the divde is wide instead of narrow. Just ask the American Indian. If you can find a pure one.

Anonymous July 23, 2013 12:26 am (Pacific time)

What a crack. Trayvon has a birth certificate which shows he was born in America. Obama does not have one because he was born in Indonesia. Obama was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Obama went to college on tax payers money. Obama crew up in a communist environment. Trayvon is black, Obama is half white and half black. Trayvon was a petty criminal, Obama is a full scale criminal. Murder, fraud, treason.

pinkfloyd July 22, 2013 2:17 pm (Pacific time)

Not much said about al sharpton, jesse jackson, mainstream media, and the obama administration using this incident to start racial divide, chaos and death. sharpton and jesse do it because they are a sellout to their own race for fame and money, obama admin does it to distract from his dozens of crimes, and the media does it because they are told to. I dont post here because I have a dog in the fight regarding this incident, I post to show people this is all hype to distract us, while others use it to promote their evil agendas. Why doesnt the obama admin/jesse/al/etc talk about the poison in the water? The GMO food that is killing us all? Pharma drugs killing hundreds of thousands? Sending jobs to Asia? etc etc etc.

Anonymous July 22, 2013 6:30 am (Pacific time)

Gang membership is up 40% since Obama was elected. Ironically gun sales/ownership is at record levels and firearm crime has been decreasing. Though black on white violent crime is up 14%. To be aware of your immediate environment is a genetic force to aid one's survival. Suffice, aware individuals observe what is a possible danger to them, immediately and down the line (to extrapolate). One can state all the historical analysis they want, whether accurate or not, it means nothing to one's immediate safety.

Anonymous July 22, 2013 5:17 am (Pacific time)

The weekend of Zim's aquittal 51 Blacks were shot in Chicago and of that 51, 11 died. Just this past weekend multiple shootings and several more dead. Blue Ribbon Study? Dude, what planet R U on?

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