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Craving hope despite double consciousness

Some of the reaction to last week's march on City Hall seeking justice for Trayvon Martin was as predictable as it was on point -- or sort of on point.

Comparing George Zimmerman to the number of young blacks who kill other blacks raises, for some, the question of misplaced priorities and a Buffalo march that ended up at the wrong place. They argue that the hundreds who trekked to City Hall might have had more impact marching to a notorious drug house that fuels black-on-black crime.

But that argument misses a key point: The rallies are not about the taking of a black life.

The protests are about the government's inability -- or refusal -- to do justice by all of its citizens.

The protests are about drug-testing the victim, but not the shooter; an "investigation" that fails to collect key evidence; and police failure to interview key witnesses.

The rallies are about injustice in a criminal-justice system that still can't live up to its name for all Americans.

To grieving survivors of blacks killed by other blacks, that distinction may not matter much. But to anyone concerned about equal protection under the law, it should matter a lot.

The other mistake that critics make is to assume that, because other efforts don't get the same media attention as the Trayvon protests, nothing else is happening. They forget a cold December in 2010, when 200 people marched from the Broadway Market to City Hall in a youth rally to protest violence. They ignore the near-weekly smaller rallies, vigils and community meetings to try to come up with solutions.

In fact -- though you wouldn't know it unless you were there -- much of last week's rally decried black-on-black crime. "Give your brother a pass" was the plea from the Stop the Violence Coalition's Arlee Daniels. It's a campaign to stop the foolishness that imperils young men who simply pass through the "wrong" territory on their way to school or a job.

It's just the latest effort by the coalition, which for years has mediated gang disputes and held mentoring and GED classes for gang members to stop the black genocide.

"If you're going to be outraged, be outraged at your own conduct," Daniels said, reflecting on the "other" message in last week's march. "In order for others to take [African-Americans] seriously, we have to take ourselves seriously."

But holding blacks accountable does not mean we can't also point out racial injustice -- whether in Sanford, Fla., or on local construction projects that can't seem to find black workers or a school system that fails black males.

"The schools close at 3 o'clock, and the kids are standing out on the corners," said George Johnson, president of the Buffalo United Front, who also participated in the march. "And then we have to scrape our kids off the street."

Part of black energy has to be devoted to dealing with those structural issues -- such as redlining and disinvestment -- that leave some neighborhoods looking like Third World outposts.

"How do you expect a kid to have hope when he has to go to school and pass through all of that?" Johnson said.

Dealing with twin realities recalls the "double consciousness" that W. E. B. Du Bois talked about in another context. Today, it means dealing with deplorable black homicide statistics, but also with continued inequities that make a mockery of the nation's stated ideals.

Which is more important? It depends on whether you believe in murder statistics, or whether you believe in the Constitution.

Or whether you believe that blacks shouldn't have to choose one or the other.