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OPINION - An assignment for the President

by Chris Conley

I was off on Friday, and will return to the WSAU Wisconsin Morning News on Monday.

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Maybe Pat Buchanan is right. He's written for years that multiculturalism is a failure. People tend to bond and prefer to be with their own kind.

Even if you disagree, there's evidence to back up his point. When the former Soviet Union disintegrated, the new nations that formed were ethnic -- not political. Uzbeks for Uzbekistan, Georgians for Georgia. Those who took up arms were the groups that didn't have the numbers or clout to get their own countries, and they tended to cluster into small communities and enclaves of their own. The same happens in our cities. Los Angeles has distinctive Black, Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods. Gangs form along ethnic lines. We self-segregate into almost exclusively white chruches and almost exclusively black or Hispanic churches. Even in a high school lunchroom, very often students will sit with their own kind.

And very often ethnic groups see things differently.

Black-America cheered in 1995 when OJ Simpson was acquitted. After perceiving the criminal justice system as unfair for decades, the perception of an unjust verdict in favor of an African-American was celebrated. There was overwhelming DNA evidence that Simpson murdered his wife and her friend. But that was swept away by the simple-minded cliche "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit".

Fast forward 18 years. There is only one eye-witness to the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman fight. His testimony: Martin was the aggressor, ending up on-top of Zimmerman and beating him "MMA-style, ground and pound." What happened leading up to that is unknown. The end result is a shooting in self-defense, and a jury verdict of 'not guilty'. But those plain facts are only how white-America sees it. Black-America sees a case of racial-profiling. 

Now President Obama has interjected into this case again: "You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago." Really, Mr. President? You could have been involved in a street-brawl with someone who was following you? That might have been you, in another time and place, beating a person that you had straddled on the ground? You would not have had the skills to defuse the situation?

The President is an intelligent man. He is the leader of our nation. He is also black. And on Friday he said, "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-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. That happens often."  Our President urges all Americans to examine themselves to see if the harbor any racism in their hearts. Yes, self-reflection is fine. But I also have an exercise for President Obama: examine your heart, and explain why your verdict in the Zimmerman trial would be so different than the correct one.