Black political leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have used the death of Trayvon Martin to stir racial division for political gain, Carol Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University, argued in a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post.
Most Americans, Swain believes, wanted an investigation into the Feb. 26 incident in which George Zimmmerman, 28, shot and killed Martin, 17, while on neighborhood watch. Martin was unarmed and walking to his father's fiance's house. Zimmerman claims he was assaulted and shot Martin in self-defense.
After black political leaders became involved, though, "it quickly became a racial issue fueling racial divide in America," Swain said.
Swain is an expert on race relations, immigration, black leadership and evangelical politics. Her newest book is called Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise.
Today's black leaders "don't put forth ideas and solutions that advance the cause of black people," Swain said. Rather, they "prefer to heat up the situation."
These black leaders benefit from depicting the incident as motivated by racism, Swain argued, because they can use it for voter mobilization. She noted that there have been voter registration drives at many of the rallies in support of Martin.
Swain was also disappointed in the way that President Obama weighed in on the issue. There are other high profile cases, she noted, that do not get the same amount of attention when the perpetrators are black. She mentioned an incident last month in Missouri in which a 13-year-old white boy was set on fire by two older black males in a racially charged attack.
"There are so many cases of heinous behavior in our black communities," Swain said.
The Vanderbilt professor worries that stirring up racial tension could have some negative consequences.
"We all lose if we have a race war in America. ... We're playing with fire. Once you stir up the emotion, anger and hatred, you can't just turn it off when convenient."
Swain believes it is "time for a new racial paradigm in America for black people. To advance the cause of race, we need to focus on issues that affect poor people and the issues that make people poor."
The author said she does not know whether Zimmerman was motivated by racist attitudes when he followed and shot Martin, but believes that black communities would be better served if black leaders focused on the issues causing many blacks to "head in the wrong direction," such as drugs, violence and out-of-wedlock births.
The biggest problem facing black communities today, Swain believes, is they put too much of their trust in government and not enough trust in God.
"There was a time when we put our trust in God, and now we put our trust in government. That's to our detriment."