I am interrupting this month’s series on Women’s History to talk about something that’s been weighing on me.
I don’t know if you’ve read about or been paying attention to the case out of Sanford, FL about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin … But I have. A lot. So I need to get my thoughts out about it, even if it doesn’t fit into this month’s theme.
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old young black man who was killed walking home from a convenience store on February 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who said the teenager attacked him and that he killed the teen in self-defense. The young man was half his size and the only thing the police found on the young man’s body was a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged in the case because the police found no evidence to disprove his claim of self-defense.
In the month since the incident, the 911 tapes have been released where Zimmerman admits to following the teenager and allegedly uses a racial slur. A friend of the teenager has come forward to say she was on the phone with Trayvon Martin at the time of the confrontation and heard Zimmerman confront the teenager first. Cell phone records support her claim but the phone itself still has not been recovered. The neighborhood watch director says that Zimmerman was not actually a member of the neighborhood watch and that guidelines say watchmen are not to follow or approach anyone and they are not to carry weapons. Additional 911 records have been released indicating Zimmerman has a history of reporting black men walking through his gated neighborhood as “suspicious” looking. But Zimmerman still has not been arrested or charged.
Public outcry has resulted in the Department of Justice getting involved in the case to investigate the action (and inaction) of the local police. Protests have popped up all over the nation of people in hoodie jackets, carrying tea and Skittles, demanding Zimmerman be arrested and stand trial. The police chief has stepped down temporarily. A special prosecutor has been appointed and a grand jury will convene on April 10th.
But the police still have not arrested Zimmerman and are standing by their decision.
This disturbs and upsets me for 2 reasons.
- I know a lot of “Trayvon Martins.” I grew up in a rough part of New Jersey with hoodie-rocking boys — and many of them lost their youthful innocence and a few lost their lives because of someone like Zimmerman saw them out and about, decided they didn’t belong and took the law into their own hands. It makes me sad and mad to know that’s still happening today! Especially when I have 3 hoodie-rocking nephews and a son of my own. It’s really scary.
- The HR professional in me has seen this scenario in organizations a hundred times. I wrote a whole series last summer about lazy HR practices and the trouble it causes in our organization and profession when we don’t follow through on claims and issues with diligence (Read that series HERE). The actions of the police in this case and their refusal to re-open their investigation into the matter stinks of the corporate malfeasance which keeps our government agencies and courts so full of claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
I am encouraged by the number of friends and colleagues I’ve seen post about this. I have friends and family who’ve attended the local rallies — and even more who’ve posted their “hoodies up” pictures on Facebook and Twitter for all to see.
I hope HR professionals, managers and leaders will also take this tragedy and turn it into a reminder to look beyond the “hoodie” in our own organizations.
I’m not just talking about racial profiling and sterotyping — although we all know this exists and is a problem to be dealt with.
I am talking about taking a look at how we handle investigations into all employee complaints and issues that come our way. Are we giving each issue the time and attention it deserves? Or do we see a “hoodie” coming our way and immediately dismiss the issue or believe the worst?
- Payroll error? Look beyond the hoodie. You may find repeat mistakes due to processor error.
- Supervisor complaints? Look beyond the hoodie. You may find a jerkface manager leading to higher turnover and productivity hindrance.
- Negative employee attitude? Look beyond the hoodie. You may find disparate compensation and reward practices. Or you may find individuals dealing with personal crisis in need of direction and options.
I don’t use these examples to make light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Someone’s child was killed senselessly and justice is no where in sight. That is unacceptable. However, we cannot and should not forget the disparity of justice began because the investigation wasn’t handled properly. If George Zimmerman had been arrested from the start, this case probably wouldn’t be national news. It would still be a tragedy. And I would still fear for my nephews and my own son because of it (although I feared for them even before this). But at least there would be still be a little faith in the system — and perhaps we could find solice in that.
Don’t be the cause of people losing faith in your organization’s system.
Don’t let a tragedy become a travesty due to your failure.