Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why Trayvon Martin’s Death Should Matter to You

All of the facts in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin have yet to come to the surface, but there are two important facts we do know. 1. Trayvon Martin is dead and 2. George Zimmerman admitted to killing a defenseless young man.  What upsets me and most rational people the most is how the case has been handled by the Sanford Police Department.  Here is one of many questions presented in this piece for thought:  How do you allow a person to walk away from a killing by simply claiming self-defense after admitting to shooting an unarmed teenager?  Self-defense after he tells the 9-1-1 operator that Trayvon is running?  Seriously?  It’s easy for Zimmerman to claim self-defense when Trayvon cannot repudiate the assertion because he is dead. 
Hypothetically speaking, imagine a scenario in which you have a lion and a hunter.  The hunter does everything he can to agitate the lion, chases him down and forces the lion to defend himself.  Once the lion reacts to the hunter’s aggression, the hunter then pulls out a gun, and kills the lion in “self-defense.”  The lion isn’t around to tell his side of the story and the myth of lion’s violent nature against humans continues to grow.  I’ll let you decide who the lion is and who the hunter is in this hypothetical scenario.
Anyone bold enough to talk about George Zimmerman and his rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty needs to remember something very important.  Trayvon Martin did not get the opportunity to prove that walking down a sidewalk, wearing a hoodie in a gated community, while being Black, IS LEGAL.  As a matter of fact, he did not need to prove anything to a stranger who followed him through the neighborhood.  Parents normally teach their children not to talk to strangers and what authority did this self-appointed neighborhood watch guy have over Trayvon or anyone else walking around that community?  What would you do if you were walking home and were being followed by an aggressive stranger, who could potentially be a pedophile, kidnapper, or murderer?  Running away from a situation like this is the natural thing for a child to do.
What are the parents of young African Americans supposed to tell their children when unfortunate situations like this happen?  Are they supposed to tell them that in addition to being extra careful when dealing with the police, you now must be extra careful when any random person wants to stop you and ask you questions?  Better yet, maybe parents should tell their children if a stranger starts chasing you for no reason at all, do not run or try to defend yourself; just lay down and allow that person to be the judge, jury, and executioner of your life.  If you try to defend yourself they will kill you, claim self-defense and be allowed to go free.  It’s hard to think race isn't an issue here because if the shoes were on the other foot and Trayvon shot and killed Zimmerman, and was standing there with a gun when the police arrived, the odds of him being arrested or shot immediately are pretty damn good.
I read a great book about a year ago called Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 written by Paul Ortiz.  As soon as I heard the sad news about the killing of young Trayvon Martin, I immediately pulled this book off the shelf.  Chapter 3 of the book particularly stands out to me because it discusses how African Americans had to fight racial terrorism during this timeframe, yet 100 years later the same type of vigilante injustice that was practiced back then is still happening today.
There were so many cases mentioned in Emancipation Betrayed that are eerily similar to this one.  Here are two excerpts from the book that helps me understand how the justice system in Florida works from a historical standpoint and why Trayvon’s death matters to me.

A hack driver was gunned down by white youths on a Jacksonville sidewalk after he failed to move out of their way quickly enough.  Another Black driver told James White, a newspaperman, that he owed him additional cab fare.  White shot the driver through the head, killing him instantly. Jacksonville police rescued White from a group of African Americans who gathered-allegedly-to lynch him.  An all-white jury excused the crime, noting that the assailant was depressed and had been drinking heavily for several days.”

Ortiz went on to say that “the lynching of black men in segregated Florida was frequently extolled as a civic virtue.”  At times it is hard explaining to non-African Americans why situations like the killing of young Trayvon Martin will cause people to react the way they have reacted. It is hard to explain, but as W.E.B. Du Bois notably spoke of an often fluttered around, unasked question in The Souls of Black Folks, “How does it feel to be born a problem? It is hard to explain to people who do not believe, or will not except the fact that racism is still alive and thriving in America in 2012. 

How can I help someone understand how it feels to be followed, stopped, and frisked by police who profile African American males while driving down the street without committing a traffic violation?  How can I help someone understand why an African American female is stopped by police and told that she looked “suspicious” because she has dreadlocks?  How can I help someone understand how it feels to be stared at in a retail store, stereotyped, marginalized, or scrutinized for no other reason than the “suspicious” color of my skin?  How can I help someone understand how it feels when I walk into an elevator with a woman while wearing my Marine service uniform and instead of her saying “thank you for your service to our country,” she turns her head, moves closer to the door, and clutches her purse as if I was going to rob her?  I must have looked suspicious to her because I am a scary looking, 5’11, 195 pound, bald, dark skinned, African American male. 

The questions presented above are real and happen to African Americans every day.  There is an entire generation of Americans who have been misled into thinking that racism is in the past, but sadly, it is very much so in the present.  This is not a political issue and I do not want to hear the cliché, talking point concerning Black on Black crime, because people from all ethnic backgrounds kill one another every day.  This is about doing the right thing for a young man and his family. 

The killing of Trayvon Martin is very similar to the thousands of African Americans who have been unjustly killed in this country simply because of the color of their skin.  The historical information presented in Emancipation Betrayed and books about America’s violent past are not written to stir the “race pot.”  They are written so that we know and understand the events of the past and hopefully we will recognize current and future events that fit the mold of atrocities that were upheld under the law to protect people of all colors who are denied the common rights of a citizen of this nation.  
Your child or maybe even a person that looks just like me could be the next Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, or Emmett Till.  This is why the killing of Trayvon Martin should matter to you.
Shalom from a concerned African American citizen
Originally published by Steve Maynor Jr. on March 22, 2012 via