Several weeks ago, I linked to the news story of Trayvon Martin in a post I wrote about racial ascriptions vs. descriptions. I was shocked by the story, but I tried to temper my outrage until I learned more. Honestly, a part of me didn’t mention it again because I was sincerely hoping that somehow details would emerge that would prove that there was more to the story than a neighborhood vigilante who thought that a black teen in a hoodie was suspicious enough to follow with a loaded gun. I didn’t want to believe that police would be complicit in letting someone go for shooting a young man unless there was clear evidence that Trayvon was somehow threatening the life of his shooter. I waited . . . and waited . . . to make sure that I wasn’t reacting to presumptions about racial profiling. I’ve watched the news emerge with growing interest and alarm, as each new detail reveals less that would suggest Trayvon was threatening, and more that would implicate his killer as a paranoid and self-important watchdog who suspected Trayvon of criminal behavior merely based on his appearance. It seems like every few days, a new aspect of this case emerges that is even more damning . . . the revelation of this police department’s history of overlooking racial crime, the lack of a standard drug and alcohol screening on the murderer, Zimmerman’s own arrest history that was ignored, the neighbor witness who feel their words were twisted in the police report, the girlfriend who was on the phone with Trayvon at the time who was never contacted by police, the 911 call and what sounds like a racial slur, the history of Zimmerman calling 911 over black youth who look suspicious for no apparent reason beyond their age and race . . . when you really dig in, the whole case is appalling. I grew up in Orlando. My sister was a police officer in Orlando – and like myself, she is the mom of two boys who look like Trayvon. We talked about this the other night, and while she is outraged, she is not surprised. I’ve seen a few reporters suggesting that Zimmerman wasn’t racially biased because he is Hispanic. I don’t think for a second that because someone is Hispanic that it precludes them from racism towards another group. I lived there for 12 years, and racism between minorities is not uncommon. Over the last week, I’ve grown increasingly angry with the way this case has been handled. Trayon had his life cut short. We can’t erase this senseless tragedy. But I do believe that as citizens, we should be aware of what is going on and speak up . . . to show Trayon’s parents, and ALL parents of black children, that we don’t live in a world where this is okay – where a man can confront and shoot a teenager on suspicion of him being a hoodlum and then walk away with no consequence. Sadly, I suspect that were it not for bad press and public outrage that this case would have been swept under the rug. I encourage you to read up on the details of the case and consider signing this petition. I’ve included some good resources below, along with some more personal reactions, two responses from pastors I respect, and some resources for talking to your own children. Let’s watch and learn, and speak out until justice occurs. The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained | Mother Jones
This is being continuously updated and is the best source I’ve seen for information.
Zimmerman called the police to report Martin’s “suspicious” behavior, which he described as “just walking around looking about.” Zimmerman was in his car when he saw Martin walking on the street. He called the police and said: “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about… These a**holes always get away”
Black males are, for far too many in America, a racial Rorschach test, onto which we instantaneously graft our own perceptions and assumptions, virtually none of them good. Look, a black man on your street! Quick, what do you see? A criminal. Look, a black man on the corner! Quick, what do you see? A drug dealer. Look, a black man in a suit, in a corporate office! Quick, what do you see? An affirmative action case who probably got the job over a more qualified white man. And if you don’t believe that this is what we do — what you do — then ask yourself why 95 percent of whites, when asked to envision a drug user, admit to picturing a black person, even though blacks are only 13 percent of users, compared to about 70 percent who are white? Ask yourself why whites who are hooked up to brain scan monitors and then shown subliminal images of black men — too quickly for the conscious mind to even process what it saw — show a dramatic surge of activity in that part of the brain that reacts to fear and anxiety? Ask yourself why whites continue to believe that we are the most discriminated against group in America — and that folks of color are “taking our jobs” — even as we remain roughly half as likely to be out of work and a third as likely to be poor as those persons of color. Even when only comparing persons with college degrees, black unemployment is about double the white rate, Latino unemployment about 50 percent higher, and Asian American unemployment about a third higher than their white counterparts.
Take this burden and just accept it as your burden. It’s just "how it is." You’re all statistics. Take these statistics. And black people get shot everywhere everyday by everyone. Police. Non-police. Crazy people. Bigots. Their parents. Other kids. Just take it. It’s part of your Life In America, Black People. Accept this tragedy and go through the motions of appealing to people’s decency and demanding justice and having protests and press conferences and crying and asking why and demanding answers and then eventually getting that bad dead cold thing that just sits there and says, "Take this."
As the father of two black teenage boys, this case hits close to home. This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them “suspicious.” That passions may run hot and blood run cold. That it might all end with a hole in their chest and hole in my heart. That the law might prove insufficient to salve my loss. That is the burden of black boys in America and the people that love them: running the risk of being descended upon in the dark and caught in the cross-hairs of someone who crosses the line.
What that has to do with anything, I cannot say. In recorded history, there are certainly examples of non-white people bearing animus against other non-white people. The Zimmerman situation might turn out to be one of those cases. The proper conservative strategy, if that’s not too crude a term, is the one employed by Rep. Allen West — focus on the facts of the case, and how a law meant for self-defense may have be incorrectly applied to defend a first-degree murderer. The dunderhead strategy is to make this yet another point-and-sputter rant about how the real racists, surely, are liberals who think that racism exists.
When you mix an infatuation with guns in many of these Southern communities with an inflated (and usually false) sense of alarm about some lurking (and usually brown) criminal menace, this is the result you get. Seventeen-year-olds shot dead with a pack of Skittles in their pocket. The thought of that family rushing out to find Trayvon lying on a cold sidewalk in a pool of blood brings tears to my eyes—and a vague sense of terror to my heart.
The urge to protect him will never leave me, this is the unfortunate rite of passage of every parent of a black boy. Once they are big enough and old enough to move out into the world without us holding their hands or watching over them, they are going to be vulnerable to the biases and misperceptions and stereotypes and downright hatred of an overwhelming number of cops, transit officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement officials who will cross our children’s paths over the next 40/50 years of their lives. I suppose the best we can do is hope that one day Mazi will put in enough years so that he can have the same worry about his own child as we have for him.
As it stands now, if the Kony 2012 campaign is successful, and when invisible children of Uganda are given asylum in this country, they will still be in danger. I’ve observed an American evangelical phenomenon: let’s go care for the the poor black souls in the country of Africa (yes, I wrote that on purpose), let’s do little mission trips to make us feel good about all we have while we get rid of our cast-off clothing, let’s post our facebook pictures with the little nameless black mascot, er, baby from said country…but still clutch our purses when a “suspicious” young man crosses our path with Skittles and iced tea, avoid eye contact at all costs, and remain silent at neighborhood injustices that may blur the thick red line of our politics.
To me, this looks like a hate crime, pure and simple, informed by the deep-seated and unchallenged racial prejudices incubated in the ignorance of a man who took his role of protector far too seriously and further than it was ever intended or needed to go. He is now sustained by a "System" that were it not for the fact of its absolute absurdity which drew international media attention in the first place, would have gone unmarked, unnoticed and therefore unchallenged. As a father, grandfather, citizen-pastor, I know that we can’t afford to act as if this were an isolated case and allow our young men to be killed for the color of their skin rather than be praised for the content of their character.
Jesus died and rose again to say no to racial reactions that result in dead boys. Not just to say no. But to empower no. And the power is not in shedding others’ blood but his own. The power is in humbling every race to be more suspicious of our own racial instincts than we are of others’ racial intentions. Being a Christian means being crucified with Christ. My old arrogant self. My old ethnocentric self. My old fearful, suspicious, unloving self. That self died with Jesus. Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily.” That means daily reckoning my old self dead.
I thought that these difficult conversations could wait. I was wrong. Along with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks they need to know about Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson. They need to know that people like George Zimmerman exist. These are conversations that I wish I didn’t have to have with Mikias and Jemberu, but it is dangerous to be a black teenage boy or black man in our country. To avoid having these conversations would make it even more dangerous. Telling Trayvon’s story seems to be a good place to start.
If you are a white mother of white kids, like I am, you have probably been watching as the Trayvon Martin murder story unfolds with a sick feeling in your stomach. Because a black boy was stalked and murdered by an adult with a history of stalking other black boys and no one in law enforcement seems to care. But also because you know that your children could end up being part of a system that allows this to happen.
When confronted by an armed individual, assume that this person is the police. As such, begin by placing your hands behind your head, fingers interlaced. This will assure that in the eventuality that you are shot and executed, there will be minimum opportunity for analysts and pundits to later ponder if you were the aggressor. Keeping your fingers behind your head is key as it prevents your fingerprints from ending up on your assailant or his weapon. If at all possible, turn your back on the person (whom we will assume always to be the police). In this manner, you will be shot in the back, another telltale sign that you were the victim.