THOMAS NEAL wrote that he understands why George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin. He attributes the suspicion to TV, music and news portrayals of young black men as thugs and criminals. While that is true, it is only part of the story.

Long before there were hoodies, Skittles and gated communities, and for as long as I can remember, Americans of African descent have always been criminalized. Black men - young, old and in-between - have been dehumanized, demonized, marginalized, feared and hated. There was never a time when black people were looked upon favorably in America, and it had nothing to do with TV, rap music, sagging pants, absent fathers, out-of-wedlock babies or any of the other present-day ills that plague our community. But it did have everything to do with, as James Baldwin succinctly observed, being "born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being." We only need remember Black Wall Street, the bloody Tulsa race riot, the Chicago riot, Rosewood, the New Orleans riot and the Newark riots, to name a few.

For centuries, black men have been perceived as overly violent and sexually aggressive, a ploy used to criminalize and demonize black men. It's been said that this case was not about race and racial profiling. Race was injected into all aspects of litigation, from jury selection to the verdict, both intentional and subliminally. I posit that race and racial profiling was front and center, and that the stereotype of the black man as a criminal terrorizing good white folks (specifically, white women) was alive and well in the courtroom.

It's the predominant American assumption that black men and boys are criminals. Olivia Bertalan, the witness who had a break-in, was part of the narrative and Martin an unwitting player. Juror B37 said as much when she inferred that Zimmerman's assumption was that Martin was a robber or some other criminal. Zimmerman was protecting his neighborhood and white womanhood. Protecting white womanhood has always been a racist ploy to demonize and criminalize black men. Think Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys and Ronald Cotton.

From Jamestown, Va., 1619, to the present day, the biases that led to young Martin's death are deeply embedded in the American psyche and the criminal-justice system, passed down from generation to generation through the media, parents and around the dinner table. It's these same biases and mind-set that looks at black men and boys as perpetrators rather than victims. It's the same bias that assumes that they must be up to no good, and consequently get what they deserve. Trayvon Martin was dealing with issues that predate him.

In the wake of the Martin tragedy and the larger issue of racism and racial profiling, the media and various conservatives, analysts and pundits, and virtually anyone who has an opinion, always bring up black-on-black violence as a way to deflect attention from Trayvon's death. That black-on-black violence is the real problem, and not this singular case. It's as if we don't have a right to criticize George Zimmerman unless and until we solve black-on-black crime.

Black-on-black crime is a term I've always disliked because it's a racialized term. Black-on-black crime is the accepted narrative. It implies that blackness has something to do with crime, that it's somehow genetic and encoded in our collective DNA. It also suggests a phenomenon that is peculiar to blacks, that doesn't exist in other groups, not to mention a slander against all the law-abiding black people.

American history and culture is one of violence. Isn't crime intra-racial? Don't white people kill other white people? Some whites are always eager to trot out statistics on black crime, but conveniently ignore murders among themselves. When murders happen among whites, they are individualized. When they happen among blacks, we all get painted with the same broad brush. We don't have the luxury of individualization. White women and children go missing and/or are murdered virtually every month, and when the perpetrators are brought to justice they invariably look like the victims. Mass killings, serial killers, serial rapes, workplace killings and school shootings are invariably committed by white men, but you never see their race connected to the crime. There are no CNN specials, no studies, no profiling of white men. When you point this out, there are the usual howls and screams of denial.

Maybe the focus should just be crime and not just a black thing.

Frances Davis

Philadelphia