They are more likely to get shot, go to jail, drop out of school, end up in foster care, be abandoned by their fathers and have children of their own while they're still teenagers.
Compared with other Americans, young black men have the statistical odds stacked against them.
But statistics only reveal trends; they don't define an individual. In in-depth interviews with more than a dozen young black men, ages 15 to 28 — from honor students to jail inmates, star athletes to aspiring executives — the voices so rarely heard in public forums spoke out on being the most profiled segment of society.
For many, the fear of ending up like Trayvon Martin — the unarmed teen shot to death by Sanford Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman — is far too tangible. At the least, their age, gender and skin color make them regularly subject to suspicion. They felt they had to be better than the next guy just to stay even.
"Sometimes it hurts," says Jaboris Haynes, 19, who grew up in poverty with his mother and sister in Apopka. "When I was younger, I thought of being a different race and wondered what it would be like. The message I got about being a young black man wasn't a good message. I always felt like somebody was after me, like they were judging me, just because I'm a black male."
Having escaped the pressure of gangs to win a scholarship to Florida A&M University to study civil engineering, he still feels pressure "not to be a statistic."
"I want people to know that I'm a lovable person, I'm kind, I can be a good friend, I'm reliable, trustworthy," he says on a break from his summer job as a camp counselor. He slumps forward, shaking his head. "But being a young black man, you have a lot of people talking down on you."
No matter how wealthy, how educated, how well-dressed and well-mannered, all the young men interviewed reported being profiled because of their skin color.
For some, it meant being stopped, questioned and frisked by police. For others, it was more subtle: a car door that locks as they walk past or pull up to a traffic light, a sales clerk who eyes their pockets suspiciously, a white woman in an elevator who clutches her purse when a young black man steps in and the doors close.
For many of the men, the reaction was so common, it barely registers on their radar anymore.
"Sure — I've been in a store here recently where I was followed around — even though I was in a suit," says Jason Henry, 28, who works for Disney and is running for the Florida House of Representatives. "You know, I'm looking at something, and all of a sudden there's someone next to me dusting."
Of the legion of things he would change about the world — the opportunities for education, decent jobs, an end to bitter partisanship in government — profiling is low on his list.
"If you harp on those situations, it's just going to make you angry," Henry says from a temporary campaign office in Pine Hills. "Racism is rooted in hatred, and I'm not going to allow that to take over my life."
Vedley Decius, an 18-year-old Haitian-American who runs track at Evans High School, has his own strategy for dealing with profiling — one that leaves him feeling triumphant.
"I realized that I was [perceived as a threat] early on — probably the end of elementary school," he says. "But I also realized: Man, I really can't do nothing about it."
So when he goes to the back of a corner grocery or convenience store, then gets a wary stare at the register, even though he's buying something, he relishes what's to come.
"When I walk past the scanners and no [alarms] go off, and you see that I have a bag with a receipt in it, you look dumb," he says. "I just feel happy when I know I did nothing wrong, and you're looking at me [suspiciously] for no reason. And that's satisfaction enough for me."
Blacks and Hispanics are about three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with police. — U.S. Department of Justice report
IN THE SHADOW OF RACE: Third in an occasional series
Central Florida's young black men battle stereotypes
In the Shadow of Race: Jason HenryAugust 16, 2012
In the Shadow of Race: Mikel WalkerAugust 17, 2012