Payne Speaks on Race in America

Jul 23, 2013 Issues: Local Issues

“I am here tonight, to talk to you about an issue that has interested me for most of my life. It is the issue around people having respect for one another irrespective of their racial makeup.

“I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, which is the largest city in the state of New Jersey, with many suburbs surrounding that metropolis. Our travels in and out of those communities were fraught at sometimes with peril for young men. That was forty years ago, but fast forward to the past eighteen months, and what do we have? We have the same situations, still before us. A young boy armed with a bag of candy and a drink, is profiled and followed. The car follows him, and then the individual gets out of the car and follows the young man on foot. Now at 17 I wonder how I would have felt, if a car had followed me. A grown man gets out of the car, and continues to follow me.

It is a situation that I have thought about over the past eighteen months, because of my triplet children. Two are boys who just turned fifteen, so they are right around Trayvon Martin’s age. I wonder, have I taught them enough to be safe. Will they find themselves in this position?

“On hearing the outcome of the verdict, that Saturday evening, one of my young son’s texted his mother to say what had happened, and why had that happened . . . because we taught them that in this nation justice prevails, and now the victim becomes the guilty party in a situation like this. I still cannot understand because [this case] became about who and what this young man was and what he had done, and what he had been doing, rather than the perpetrator following him.

“I was fortunate to be in New York during the time of the 100 rallies across the nation in finding justice for Trayvon Martin. I proudly stood with Trayvon Martin’s mother on Saturday, a dignified woman in this entire crisis. The sorrow that must be in her heart, she has remained a dignified individual and only asks for justice for her son – not that people should act out in a manner in which the masses thought that they would, but to have a peaceful demonstration about the injustices that came out of that case.

“Stand your ground. Did Trayvon Martin have the right to stand his ground? He was the one that was being followed. He was the one being profiled. When did he lose his right to defend himself?

“We are in a difficult time here in this country, but it seems like we always get to this point at some time, and we start the conversation, but we never finish it. We need to have an open discussion about the conditions that we find ourselves in as Americans. All of us. We need to understand both sides of the issue – all sides of the issue – so we can move forward with this great experiment called the United States of America.

“It is the greatest nation in the world, this is true, and many come here to live the American Dream. Many nations emulate the United States, but we have a long way to go on this nation as well.

“The injustices that we’re facing are widespread and threaten some of the most fundamental rights of this country. So I ask my colleagues, let’s have that discussion. I ask the citizen of the United States, let’s have that discussion, so we can form that more perfect union.

I have had situations in my life where I found myself, not in the exact situation of Trayvon Martin, but issues of racism that were perpetrated on me. But I’m not bitter towards an entire population. Those are individuals.

“We have to come to grips with prejudging people in this country. I would just like to end with something Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

“My father, the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, who was a great teacher and humanitarian, felt all people deserved the right to freedom, justice, and equality. He taught me a poem, very early on in my life and I will end with that:

“Whether you have blonde fleecy locks or black complexion,

It cannot forfeit Nature’s claim,

Skin may defer from black and white,

But it’s all just the same,

Were I so tall to reach the pole or span the oceans with my hands,

I must be measured by my soul,

The mind is the standard of a man.”