Nick Autiello, the former Republican operative who’s running as a Democrat to be my State Senator, has come under heavy criticism for the racially charged way he talked about President Obama on Facebook. For me, as a young Black man living in this city, I also worry deeply about how he talked about one of the most prominent cases of racist violence against young Black men, the slaughter of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman:
“I really don’t care what any of the peripheral facts are… “says RI State Senate Candidate Nick Autiello, “…and the racial implications have been blown out of proportion…”, in this Facebook post regarding the incident involving the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. In this post, he goes on to imply that the case was nothing more than the fact that “… [Zimmerman] shot a kid who didn’t have a gun.”
Since that time, our country has seen a slew of young unarmed African-Americans being being killed, by law enforcement, seemingly indiscriminately. The names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and a whole list of other victims of police violence are now the nucleus that fuels the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The movement calls for the end of such police violence/militarization and the institution of reforms to policing and the United States Criminal Justice system as a whole, among other goals. To many White Americans, like Nick, it seems that perhaps these are anomalies that are a product of various groups pushing their agendas, dismissing any notion of anything systemic. For African Americans, people of Color, and other marginalized Americans, the systemic root is all too real and present in our lives.
For me, an African American son of first generation immigrant parents, Nick Autiello is not only wrong in his myopic view of the case, but seems deaf to voices of Color in America and naïve to the statistics of black incarceration and police interactions with people of Color.
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Here in Providence, we have a deep history of systemic racism. Even if Autiello may claim his views have now changed, we can’t have people running as Democrats who feel this way about the murder of young Black men. For the sake of my own life, I cannot support someone who has ever held this view. I hope every Democrat feels the same way.