How Will Trayvon Martin Case Impact Race Relations In San Diego?
July 22, 2013 2:25 p.m.
Lei-Chala Wilson, President, NAACP San Diego Branch
Brian Pollard, Community Activist
Mychal Odom, Historian, UC San Diego Graduate Student Dept. of History
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The first woman to go public with allegations against Mayor Bob Filner is set to speak this hour. This is KPBS Midday Edition. A news conference is scheduled for 12:30 featuring high-profile attorney Gloria Allred. She says she'll introduce her client who accuses Filner of sexual harassment. We will also hear now the news conference from two city Council members about the stability of San Diego in light of the allegations against Mayor Filner. But first we ask a big question does the kind of racial profiling president Obama spoke of last week happened here in San Diego? I am Maureen Cavanaugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next. First the news. A high-profile attorney will introduce the first woman to go public with sexual harassment allegations against Mayor Filner and we will discuss if every day racial profiling is a problem here in San Diego this is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, July 22. And here's what's going on in the KPBS newsroom and around San Diego. Lots of activity underway today concerning allegations of sexual harassment against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. City Council President Todd Gloria and Pres. Tom Wagner are right now making a statement regarding what they call instability in the office of the Mayor and at 12:30 Los Angeles civil rights attorney Gloria Allred is expected to speak about a lawsuit she's about to file against the Mayor and city of San Diego Allred said she represents a city employee who claims Filner sexually harassed her. We will bring you more on both these new conferences including private live comments story on Midday Edition as a follow-up to some powerful and personal words spoken by Pres. Barack Obama last Friday. He made these comments about the verdict in the killing of African-American teenager Treyvon Martin.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously. And holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rallies took place in San Diego and across the nation last weekend to protest the not guilty verdict in the trial of a man who followed and ultimately shot trade on margin in Florida. But the president's words brought the issue and invited the nation in every city to explore how race still affects our judgments, our actions and our daily lives. I'd like to welcome my guest Lei-Chala Wilson is president of the NAACP in San Diego and welcome to the program.
LEI-CHALA WILSON: Thank you for inviting me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brian Pollard is a community activist from Valencia Park. He's a member of the NAACP and the coalition of neighborhood councils. Brian welcome to the program.
BRIAN POLLARD: Great, thank you very much for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Mychal Odom is a UC San Diego graduate student in the department of history. Mychal, welcome again
MYCHAL ODOM: Thank you very much.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Lei-Chala Wilson, why do you think that the president made the statement on Friday?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: I think the president made the statement because he wanted the patient to think about the recent African Americans and other people as well or reacting to the verdict and I think everything he said was absolutely true that also happens to African-American females. Have to worry about how I'm dressed as I get on the elevator, people react a certain way and if I go in a store, they violently depending on how I'm dressed so what he said was absolutely true and I think he wanted the nation to think about it and since he is the president and we have all these vigils and protests and marches going on I think it was appropriate for him to address it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You talk about the way people are reacting to the verdict in case there have been several rallies held in San Diego after George Zimmerman's acquittal. How are San Diegans reacting to the outcome of the case?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: I think the way they are reacting as a lot of people want them to know that I guess it hurts that this guy was acquitted when clearly had he not followed if Mr. Zimmerman had not followed Treyvon Martin, none of this would have happened. There are only two people who really know what happens, don't know what happened one is him and our new one is talking, the other one is walking.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me turn to you, Brian. Like I just said with Lei-Chala, Mr. Obama made the comment that a lot of people felt he was compelled to explain why African Americans and others were so upset about this not guilty verdict, why does he have to explain that because it's your sense that white Americans are not aware of what black Americans go through?
BRIAN POLLARD: I think that's part of it. I think I applaud his comments last week because what he did was elevate the conversation. You know, I get the impression and there is data binding that a lot of folks really don't want to talk about racism. You know, it is that elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It is very subtle in this day of ages. And like I said I think it brings up a lot of internal fear in people when that conversation, when the word is even brought up, so I think an explanation was needed, I think that we need to have more nightly conversations because we've been talking about this for over 500 years and nothing significantly since the 60s has occurred. But I think we need to clearly articulate the reasons why most African-Americans feel so strongly about it, is that we've been, you know, and I hate this word, but in this case it seems to warrant it, we've been a lot of times victims to racism. Some of it is self-imposed. But, the majority of it is that you know, let's face it, white folks seem to have the economic power. They seem to be in positions in which they can control who breaks that ceiling, be it women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, whatever.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you relate personally to the kinds of experiences the president talked about.
BRIAN POLLARD: Oh my God yes. Oh my God yes. You know I went to college down in Louisiana as the first African-American quarterback for a predominantly white school. So, I definitely, back in the 70s, felt racism in the South. Which is not as subtle as the racism that I have had in currently have here in California. The elevator, woman in the elevator clutching her purse, classic. Happens a lot of times today. Some of the comments of some well-meaning white folks, you know, asking me because they have another black friend, do you know the guys name happens to be Emmett, well you know there's probably more than two black people in California. So there is that racism that continues and like I said I think it's more subtle nowadays is certainly subtle in the employment arena, it is certainly subtle and other areas.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Mychal, let me get your take on this because I think you are a member of the younger generation at this table if I may say so and Mychal, just in your experience, living in San Diego, going as a graduate student in UC San Diego, can you relate to what the president was talking about?
MYCHAL ODOM: For the most part, yes. What the president talked about as he said pretty much is the basic experience that most African-Americans whether it be here in San Diego or throughout the nation has experienced. I've experienced it myself whether it be shopping at local places, or just actually standing in front of my apartment in La Jolla, in a predominantly white neighborhood and having the police being called on me because my neighbors did not know who I was. Yes, it happens and it happens very frequently.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lei-Chala, I think a lot of people in San Diego might think that this happens in other parts of the country but not here and I'm wondering since this is such a diverse place, San Diego, where do you think we get our attitudes about race?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: I don't know what you get it from TV, whether you get it from your parents or whether you get it from the surrounding areas. And actually I think it's gotten worse since we've had a president Obama because people did not want a black president, then he became president again and I think there is still resentment about that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you feel that that resentment sort of trickles down perhaps into the way that white people or people who don't want the president to be the president relate to black people?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: Yes but I don't want to say that all white people, because even what I've experienced lately after the verdict, I've been e-mailed, then called, have conversations where people sing I'm a white woman, this is a problem and I think you should boycott, you should do this so I don't want to use white and that it's always just a certain segment and I don't want to say all of them because of course it wouldn't be where we are if we were all white people but it just seemed to be down a color line where blacks felt one way and whites felt one way if you see some of the comments and some of the stuff where you see where people are posting stuff most of the negative is common for my people but I don't want to give the impression it's all white people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brian?
BRIAN POLLARD: Maureen, I think and I've always felt this I've been raised in a pretty balance family and I have to tell you my experience especially raising three daughters is that racism, hatred, bigotry, is a learned behavior. And I think the majority of the times it is passed down from one family member to another. You know, I've experienced my children who are mixed-race, have experienced racism on both sides from the black folks and from the white folks. And in talking to different families and living in an urban area all my life you know the conversations in the home needs to be where this starts getting address. And it is not a direct one-on-one conversation with the children, per se. It is those conversations that the mother and father or adults have and they don't think the children are listening. I've heard I've got a 10-year-old in my house now and I've heard her experience or share with me the experience she has at school and this is not between whites and blacks, this is also between Latinos and blacks. So with the change of demographics I think that if the conversation in my household does not get checked then this is only it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mychal I want to pick up on something Wilson said because with an African-American president being elected not just once but twice I think a lot of people in the US the hour-long set history about racial profiling and race relations was finally resolved. Why hasn't that happened?
MYCHAL ODOM: Well, as a historian we like to talk about things like cultural logics and ideologies and stuff like that and without a doubt the 2008 election, the 2012 reelection does on some levels are present day shift. However, four years is just a drop in the bucket of time. And trying to correct some of these ideologies I think that's what's very interesting about this case, right there has not been a lot of talk about what, to classify Zimmerman as. Well, in the end what we know and what the other two speakers have talked about is that regardless of one's race, one Supports out of the ideologies of white supremacy. These are the ideas that white is better and black is not and regardless of one's race, one can be against them. I think that's what's been so interesting about the local protested the years is the way it that it brought out people of all walks of life against the verdict, but also against the larger system that they feel criminalizes black people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, Lei-Chala, from the president's comments I got the feeling that the kind of things he was talking about not so much being followed around in stores because that's a deliberate actbut the kind of thing, the clutching her purse, clicking the locks on the car door to think a lot of people respond that way and don't even think about it, I mean it's not like an active, conscious, I'm afraid if this person because they are black, it's just something as Brian was saying so instilled in one from childhood almost that the reaction just comes out without even thinking about it?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: I think that's true and let me expand on it because it's sort of funny I remember my brother-in-law telling me that one time he was going to Yuma and he was going 60 65 mi./h, he looks over and looks over at the white woman in the car and she locks the door. She was going 65 miles an hour we laugh about it. What was he going to do? People do it without thinking it would be no different from the neighborhood women when you are walking alone and you see them in your heightened awareness that so that if people think black people commit crimes, they are dangerous and is perpetuated and even in this case some people believe the young child jumped on this man and said you were going to die, I don't believe it but that sort of how they looked at it and maybe the jury do because they think black people are violent without looking at the history of the country and you see that's not really true when you go back to not our beginnings because our beginning was in Africa but from the arrival here on not sure South America and the stuff that the slaves went through and the brutality.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You see where the violence is coming from you I understand I'm wondering because this has been brought up in some conversations that I've listened to in cable TV and they talk about one of the problems in correcting this is if a black person does something wrong it sort of taints all black people in a way, it doesn't. If indeed a white person does something wrong, all white people don't have to like make up for it in some way. You also feel that way?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: Yes I hate to say it because sometimes you hear a really horrible crime the first thing I say to myself is Oh God, I hope the persons not black and I don't know why I feel responsible for every black person I don't think why people have the same burden.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brian?
BRIAN POLLARD: When you are talking to freeze the hit me is black is bad and I think there are a lot of people that instantly see this is what racism is about, you judge the person before you know then you look at the person if they have a buddy on, if he's dark skinned, if he's Latino, if he's young, you instantly get your judgment of what kind of person this person has to be. You know, and that is in my estimation that is what racism is all about. People are in fear, they are ignorant they don't spend time with people of other cultures and so right away I think as humans we judge them and we cloud it with oh, I'm just, it's the culture and it's not about his race. Or you know I just hang around people that I feel more comfortable with for me when I hear that, that is cold. It is sad persons inability to be honest with themselves about how they feel and they don't want to be seen as racist so I'm going to make it some other reason why I don't hang around them or talk with them, whoever them is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mychal?
MYCHAL ODOM: I have a colleague and he is white and he would tell me he knows that he's right because when he goes out into public keys not reminded by people that he's white. Right? So re-refer to the academically as white privilege. And that is connected to the system in which many people are coming out against. One thing that I stated at a rally this weekend is the necessity that maybe Afro-Caribbean African-Americans need to be extraordinary just to achieve basic rights so you see the campaigns look at me I'm a medical student, but I'm wearing a hoodie, but that doesn't matter, right? Like I said University City people go jogging all the time with hoodies on. Some of them are doctors, some of them are. That doesn't matter, so I think there's a movement to even push back against that and say no longer should African-Americans have to be extraordinary to get basic rights.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because there is also this idea that that's why I think a lot of people are shocked by some of the things Pres. Obama said, that there are people who are black who are just like white people and there are people who are black hole you have to really watch out for. I think that there is this dichotomy that people look at, you know, with the people who are high achievers as opposed to just being an ordinary person, which is something that seems to be granted to people who have white skin, but is something that society hasn't really granted yet to people who are black.
BRIAN POLLARD: I could not agree with you more. You know, I've got a couple of groups that are working on neighborhood watches and I could even since among other African-Americans and Latinos is that we observe a lot of activity and we've had a conversation about well who do we call the police on and our world of time is basically and that's why it is such a tough issue is that if we don't recognize the person and if they are hanging around and if they are black or brown or white it doesn't really matter, the race does not matter, is that we have to protect our neighborhoods as well. But I've had conversations with other African-Americans and this question came up especially with the Zimmerman thing is that how do we not profile these folks and I said it's not a racial profiling. It is, do we know the person and are they doing anything? I mean it gets down to that extent so you know this whole racial thing is really as I mentioned before it is a fundamental thing you know, raising three kids the litmus test I would give and I mentioned this to other people and it will probably rub people the wrong way is when my daughter started dating the litmus test type but with my shelf is what is my gut level response when the door opens up and it is a white kid or when the door opens up and it is a black kid or when the door opens up and is a Latino or whatever race it is. It is a gut level response that tests me on my degree of racism. Because I think we all have that to some degree.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, Lei-Chala, Brian was saying that you have, it starts from childhood and the way you are taught and this was going to turn this around, but is there something we can do more? Obviously you've been thinking about this. Is there something that government can do? Is it enough to have these conversations these dialogues about race or is there something more that needs to be done?
LEI-CHALA WILSON: I think it's in conversations and the dialogues like this are. I don't think the government should get involved. You know you say you can make laws and it does not really change how people feel no matter how many laws you put in and there are laws against racism or discrimination, but it doesn't change behavior. I think having dialogues I think the fact that the president is good and the fact we are talking about it today and I don't think it's going to go away this time because my feeling it was the first time that people really believed here we have a kid who was killed he was committing a crime we cannot say he was committing a crime I think people held their breath at this time it would be different and that's why I think you have the rallies and protests because it took away a hope. Even though the government can do something further where it's going to be Department of Justice or there's going to be a civil case filed but I think it just took out the breath because people had hoped that this time it was just clear what had happened and it just went away.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to wrap it up. I'm sorry, but thank you so much for this discussion. I've been speaking with Brian Pollard, community activist from Valencia Park, Mychal Odom, UC San Diego graduate student in the Department of history and Lei-Chala Wilson, president of the NAACP San Diego. Thanks to all of you.
TWO SPEAKERS: Thank you.
ONE SPEAKER: Thank you very much