Recently, the New York Times, the Washington Post and even CBS news featured stories about our fair city. Feeling rather prideful, I wondered what they could be about. Our pristine beaches the week before spring break? Our progressive green public policies? While surfing the Internet, I was eager to find out.

To my dismay, the stories were about how, on April 4, campus police at Santa Monica College pepper-sprayed a crowd of students who were angry over a plan to offer high-priced courses and tried to push their way into a Board of Trustees meeting. Suddenly, I wasn’t so filled with pride.

Video posted on the Internet showed students chanting “No cuts, no fees, education should be free.” Then comes the pepper-spray followed by screaming students wiping their eyes, choking and gasping for air. Nationwide coverage of this ugly melee couldn’t have exactly been music to the ears of our Chamber of Commerce. Reportedly, paramedics treated 30 for exposure to the spray, including a 4 year old. Yikes!

I wasn’t there and I’m not trying to point fingers. But, somehow, offering courses at higher fees that would benefit students with more money over their poorer counterparts seems abhorrent just on the face of it. (The plan has temporarily been shelved and may not even be legal.)

But it was the images of the deep anger expressed by the protesters that stuck with me. There’s so much angst and fury in our society lately that it’s everywhere you turn. And among the greatest vitriol involves race. It’s suddenly as though the civil rights movement never happened.

As I write this, today George Zimmerman, the 28 year old who killed Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed teenager in Sanford, Fla., was arrested and charged with second degree murder. With battle lines seemingly drawn between those who think Zimmerman guilty and those who don’t, I have a feeling the conscience of America will be tested.

It’s shocking to note that lately there have been numerous murders of minorities, often black males, often unarmed, in cities across American like Pasadena, Oakland, San Diego, Tulsa, Okla. White Plains, N.Y. and Sanford, Fla. Instead of 2012 and Sanford, Fla., it almost feels like it’s Selma, Ala. and we’re back in the bigoted 1950s.

I had naively thought with the election of Barack Obama racial divides would lessen. Now it feels like they’re wider than they’ve been in decades. Why?

Throughout history there’s been a relationship between difficult economic times and bigotry. It was during the Great Depression that Hitler’s ultimate rise took place. In 1932 he only won 33 percent of the vote, but sadly the need to scapegoat was so great that Hitler was made chancellor. (How did that little experiment work out?)

So Zimmerman is behind bars and will get his day in court. That said, I fear the coming months might be a heyday for bigots. Online, it’s already happening. It’s sickening.

Speaking of sickening, I’m not exactly a fan of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law (or Ted Nugent and the National Rifle Association who defend it). According to Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org, “It gives more leeway to shooters than our military gives under the Rules of Engagement to soldiers in war.”

I’m also appalled that the Sanford police didn’t immediately examine Trayvon Martin’s cell phone, which revealed heated conversation between him and Zimmerman until a minute before the killing. In fact the plaintive cries of “Help me” are ominously silenced by a gunshot.

Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s new lawyer, described his client’s state of mind, though I’m not sure he did him any favors. “Truly, it must be frightening to not be able to go into a 7/11 and be a prisoner wherever he was.”

If it’s unimaginable that Trayvon, an unarmed teenager, buys Skittles at a convenience store and minutes later is dead, think of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.’s grieving family. An ex-Marine, a 68-year-old corrections officer retiree with a heart condition, Mr. Chamberlain was killed in his own home by White Plains police responding to a medical emergency.

Whereas Zimmerman is in jail, Anthony Carelli, the 6-year veteran of the White Plains P.D., who shot and killed Chamberlain is still free. (Carelli is currently in court on unrelated police brutality charges.) The Chamberlains and 200,000 signers of an online petition, hope that a grand jury will soon hand down indictments. Stay tuned.

I was one of the 200,000. It’s an odd cyber world in which we live. On Facebook it’s post, click, share and you feel you’ve done something. But have you? It’s certainly not like the freedom rides of the 1960s, or the sit-ins, or having water cannons shot at you by Sheriff “Bull” Connor.

Thankfully, at rallies all across the country, there are still those brave souls protesting for justice. To them I can only say, “Watch out for the pepper-spray.”

To follow the latest developments, go to Facebook and type “Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.” Jack can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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