March 29--CHAPEL HILL -- African-American males participating in Wednesday's march for justice in the Trayvon Martin shooting said racial profiling is a fact of life for many black men.
They contend that black men are often targets of undue suspicion, and that that's true regardless of their educational achievements or economic status.
As a result, many said they find themselves constantly on guard.
"Just based on the way I look, with my dreds [dreadlocks] and dark skin and my large stature, people profile me," said Kaylon Patterson, a UNC senior from Shelby.
Patterson said the pressure of feeling as though you're constantly being watched can be debilitating, and that it is also hurtful.
"You always have to be conscious of your surroundings," said Patterson. "We're all human and we all feel. You want to wear a mask, but in reality you have to have some kind of emotion and be able to feel."
George Zimmerman, the community watch captain, who fatally shot the 17-year-old Florida high school student, has been accused by critics of racially profiling Martin because he was black and wearing a hooded sweat jacket.
He called the Sanford, Fla., Police Department to report a suspicious person after he saw Martin walking through a gated community in the town on his way back to his father's girlfriend's home, where he was visiting.
A scuffle reportedly ensued and ended when Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.
Joseph Jordan, director of the Stone Center at UNC, said hardly a day passes that he doesn't feel as though he's been racially profiled.
"I'm racially profiled every day," Jordan said. "I'm racially profiled when I go into the grocery store, when I go into a store at Southpoint [mall]. I'm still followed and I'm stopped on the road because I'm black and because of the kind of car I drive."
He said most black men learn to accept racial profiling as a fact of life.
"We tend to live with it," Jordan said. "We can get upset, but we'd be getting upset every hour of our lives."
Demitrius Brown, UNC's assistant dean of students, said he too has been the subject of racial profiling, and it's painful.
"It makes you feel marginalized, it makes you feel less than," Brown said. "It's very frustrating because you don't have a lot of outlets for what you do with that."
And Brown said there really is no place to go for redress when law enforcement officials are the ones engaging in the practice.
"That's the difficult thing many of our students face," Brown said. "Where do they go when that happens to them?"
At UNC, Brown said many of the African-Americans students often find themselves in his office after such incidents.
"I help them process and figure out what they want to do and make sure they're in control of the process," Brown said. "Sometimes they just want to vent and get out their stories and say it in confidence and privacy. They don't necessarily want to start a protest or go talk to the mayor. They just want to talk to someone who will listen and hear them and emphasize with what they're experiencing."
Sam Pride, a UNC senior from Rocky Mount and one of the organizers of Wednesday's march, said racial profiling is a problem in his hometown.
"It's a pretty segregated area and the police are pretty bad," Pride said. "But I've been racially profiled right here on campus before."
Pride said he didn't realize how much being profiled bothered him until a few days ago when he watched a black couple care for their baby boy on a Chapel Hill Transit bus.
"I got really sad looking at them because that baby really has no place in this world," Pride said. "He's just been born and some of his steps are predetermined because he's a black male."
Copyright 2012 - The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.