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Why black people don't trust the police

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 11:30 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
 A memorial to Trayvon Martin outside The Retreat at Twin Lakes community where he was shot by George Michael Zimmerman.
A memorial to Trayvon Martin outside The Retreat at Twin Lakes community where he was shot by George Michael Zimmerman.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson says he's been repeatedly stopped, hassled by police for no good reason
  • He says Trayvon Martin's shooting shows similar injustice
  • He says it has echoes of how police handled Amadou Diallo case, Rodney King, Sean Bell
  • LZ: Cover ups, lax investigations show black people why they can't trust police

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom in the 9 am ET hour.

(CNN) -- I don't trust cops and I don't know many black people who do.

I respect them. I sympathize with them. I am appreciative of the work they do.

But when you've been pulled over for no good reason as many times as I have; when you've been in handcuffs for no good reason as many times as I have; when you run out to buy some allergy medication and upon returning home, find yourself surrounded by four squad cars with flashing lights and all you can think about is how not to get shot, you learn not to trust cops.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

The first instance of injustice surrounding the Trayvon Martin tragedy occurred February 26, the night George Zimmerman decided to pursue, confront and ultimately shoot and kill Martin. The second started the moment the Sanford police failed to properly investigate what, given the 911 tapes, is clearly a questionable claim of self-defense made by Zimmerman. But seeing that Martin's parents were forced to sue the police department just to hear the tapes, it seems as if Zimmerman isn't the only questionable component in this case.

Thursday, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee stepped down "temporarily." On Wednesday, Sanford city commissioners had voted "no confidence" in him.

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But at a town hall meeting hosted by the NAACP on Tuesday, Sanford's black residents said they lost confidence in the police long before because of the extensive history of prejudicial treatment in the area.

Law enforcement isn't easy. In fact, it is extremely dangerous. But that in no way excuses improper procedure and lies. And given the amount of effort put forth by the Sanford chief to exonerate Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman with a history of 911 calls that suggests paranoia, versus efforts to find out the truth, it sure feels like another case of racial profiling and police trying to cover up an impropriety. The shooter may not have been a police officer, but the story of how the police handled this case is oh-so-familiar.

It's the same story the nation heard from blacks in Los Angeles surrounding the 1991 Rodney King beating.

It's the same story heard from blacks in New York City surrounding the murder of Amadou Diallo, who was only carrying his wallet when he was shot 41 times by four plainclothes policemen in 1999.

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That same story was heard in New Orleans, where black men were shot and killed for sport by police officers off the Danziger Bridge in 2005. The police department covered it up for two years before any arrests were made. Charges were even initially dismissed by the district judge before the Justice Department got involved and finally, last summer, officers were convicted.

And people wonder where the impetus behind NWA's "___ the Police" came from. I'll tell you where it came from. It came from knowing there are far more stories like Trayvon Martin's that the world never hears about. In fact, we almost didn't hear about this one. The nation heard the 911 tapes from last month's tragic shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio within 24 hours of the incident. Martin's parents had to file a lawsuit before they could hear the ones in this case.

Why?

If the police department had done everything it was supposed to do, if it was truly "PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time" as the letter released by the city manager states, then why hold back until there is national media attention?

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The letter said the department was still investigating the case and didn't want to compromise it, but the authorities never brought Zimmerman in for questioning. They still haven't. They tested Martin's body for drugs and alcohol, but not Zimmerman's. The only person with a weapon was Zimmerman. Martin was unarmed.

Just like the victims in New Orleans, Diallo, King. ...

In 2010, the family of Sean Bell was awarded $7 million by the city of New York after five police officers sprayed his car with more than 50 bullets, killing him. He was unarmed and to be married the next day.

"No amount of money can provide closure, no amount of money can make up for the pain," his fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, said after the ruling. "We'll just try to learn how to live with it and move on."

Those are words members of the black community have to say to each other far too many times when it comes to treatment by the police.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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