Profiled: Voices of black men in Syracuse

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Syracuse students and residents describe how it feels to be racially profiled.

The death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla., sparked a national conversation about race and justice in America.

Escalating news coverage and discussions about Martin’s death had a variety of implications, including the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on racial profiling in a decade. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a proposed End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) would "prohibit racial profiling by police and train officers to respond to situations based on specific evidence, as opposed to stereotyped notions about the identity of a suspected wrongdoer."

Linked to America's complicated history, the narrative of profiling in communities of color is not a new one. Although national attention rests on Martin and neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, men of color are profiled in the classroom, on the street, in department stores and by law enforcement. According to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Police Department's stop and frisk program performed more frisk searches of young black men in 2011 than the total number of young black men living in New York City.

Often absent in this mainstream conversation are the voices of men of color, for whom racial profiling is the norm.

In this video series, Syracuse University students, professors, administrators and members of the greater Syracuse community gave their personal testimonies, expressed their reactions and even offered reflections in the form of poetry on how it feels to be racially profiled.

Note: The video player above features video interviews with 12 local men that will automatically play successively. You can see individual videos through the Playlist menu in the lower section of the video screen, or by selecting the links below.

To Be A Problem

To be a problem 

In his 1903 essay, "Of Our Spiritual Leanings," W.E.B. Du Bois asked ''How does it feel to be a problem?'' Through this powerful question, Du Bois aimed to highlight a sense of what it must feel like to live in a society in which you are always regarded as something to be fixed, questioned or punished. SU doctoral candidate Don Sawyer, SU junior Lawrence Jackson and SU alumnus and Say Yes to Education Director Vincent Cobb II, describe their experiences being racially profiled and how it made them feel like a "problem."


Trayvon Martin is MeTrayvon Martin is me

Broadcast and digital journalism professor Hub Brown says despite his situated reality in academia, Trayvon Martin's story very well could have been his own. Also, Brown questions the notion of privilege, arguing that the reason why these stories aren't always given a fair share in the media is because people don't realize their inherent biases or the positions from which they are reporting.


Trayvon Martin is Me"A Letter to Jonathan"

When SU senior Ousman Diallo was a child, he remembers family and friends packed into his house to commemorate the life of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant who was shot and killed by New York City police. His family members were close friends with the Diallos. Ousman wrote a fictional poem, "A Letter to Jonathan," about the relationship between black men and their struggle to maintain friendships amidst the backdrop of institutionalized racism.

Warning: This video includes sensitive language.


Criminals dressed in suits

Trayvon Martin is MeOne of the unfortunate ramifications of racial profiling is that particular racial groups become implicitly associated with certain crimes. SU academic counselor Ernest Daily offers a reminder that criminals can be of any race and dressed in any article of clothing.




These situations are all connected

Trayvon Martin is MeSyracuse rapper Klass Jones Junior, SU Multicultural Affairs Director Cedric Bolton and senior Donald Saint-Germain discuss how racial profiling has become normal. They view Trayvon Martin's story as extending beyond an unfortunate event and view it as connected to a larger historical struggle for justice and equity for men of color in America.


Save your anger

Trayvon Martin is MeSU senior Donald Saint-Germain, broadcast and digital journalism professor Hub Brown, Say Yes to Education Director Vincent Cobb II and SU junior Lawrence Jackson discuss what it is like to repress their emotions when they know they are being profiled. 




Protecting their sons

Trayvon Martin is MeDon Sawyer recalls the coversations about race that many black parents have with their children. He says although these discussions are often described in academia as "reifying white supremacy," parents of children of color are more concerned with keeping their kids alive by preparing them for situations in which they might be racially profiled. Sawyer offers more of this critical analysis in the webisodes How Do You Participate in Racism? and We Don't Talk About Race


"I guess I'm just a n-----"

Trayvon Martin is Me

In this poem, Klass Jones Junior reflects on feeling part of a second-class citizenry in America and how this situated reality makes profiling inevitable.

Warning: This video includes sensitive language.





Wrong time, wrong place

Trayvon Martin is Me

Vince Cobb II evokes the Bibical scripture, 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," as he describes what it feels like to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.   




"It's irritating"

Trayvon Martin is Me

In his poem, SU junior Kenneth Lewis sums up his frustration with being racially profiled as simply "irritating."




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