I found myself emotionally vested in the Trayvon Martin murder, being upset and saddened as if Trayvon were my own kid. Listening to the sound clips of the 911 call of the screaming voice ripped my heart out. No one can say for sure if it was Trayvon or Zimmerman but I imagined it was Trayvon.
I realized that this particular killing hit home for me because I am the single mother of a 17 year old boy. My son isn’t much different from Trayvon Martin. He likes to wear hoodies and loose fitting clothes. He wears dreadlocks and hangs out with his friends who are other black boys, also much like Trayvon Martin. He is also a boy who would defend himself against someone in pursuit of him.
And, my tears began to flow. They flowed because I could clearly see my son fighting for his life, just like Trayvon, against a man who had already determined he was trouble — even though he wasn’t.
I imagined Trayvon walking home from the convenience store with his hood covering his head because it was raining. He was talking on his cell phone to one of his friends, laughing and joking, maybe commenting about something that happened that day. Then he spotted a man who seemed to be following him. When he realized he was actually being followed, he told his friend.
Fear crept in. I imagined him thinking, “what should I do? Should I say something to him to deter him from trying to harm me? Or should I run? But if I run, would that let him know I’m scared and provoke him to try to harm me?” Step after step, in the puddling rain, Trayvon felt threatened. Why was a man following him? Not accustomed to bowing down — being a confident young man, he turned and addressed his follower. I imagined the man got in his face and called Trayvon a disparaging name. It is entirely probable that the man provoked fear in Trayvon. And, Trayvon responded in defense.
That’s what happened as I perceived it.
But, as the story unfolded, the victim, Trayvon Martin, became the bad guy, the perpetrator who incited the incident that caused his death. The media began posting pictures of Trayvon smoking marijuana and reporting the troubles he’d had in school. Yet, I failed to see what any of that had to do with the fact that a man pursued and killed him. Zimmerman spotted him, called 911, made profiling remarks then set out in pursuit of Trayvon. Not the other way around.
Yet our justice system said that Zimmerman was right in killing Trayvon. There was no manslaughter, no murder, not even an assault. Nothing. He was deemed innocent after admitting to killing a teenage boy who was walking home in the rain from a convenience store.
While Trayvon’s family will always have an empty seat at their dinner table, his murderer was free to go home and enjoy dinner with his family. He was celebrated for his heroism. One of the jurors spoke out saying Zimmerman “just got carried away.” Carried away? As if he ate too much cake and ice cream and wound up sick; as if he drank too much and passed out somewhere; as if he whimsically frolicked around while trampling a few daisies? Carried away?
He killed a teenager, admitted to killing him and still got to go home without so much as a slap on his wrist.
So, what do I tell my son? That the right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” doesn’t apply to him? That he doesn’t have a right to walk down the street in his own neighborhood? That he can’t choose to wear a hoodie and loose jeans? That his life is of no value in America? Because incident after incident, these messages are being hammered in hard: your life doesn’t matter.
The stereotype of black men has created an unrelenting fear — and that fear is exterminating our boys one by one. It’s not just over-zealous neighborhood watchmen, it’s law enforcement, too. How many reports have we seen where an unarmed black male had been shot multiple times by the police? Or, what about the incident where the handcuffed black man managed to acquire a gun and shot himself in the head?
The murder of Trayvon Martin riled me because he was not much different than my son. It riled me because I don’t want my son to walk around in fear — concerned that his very presence may cause someone to fear for his own life and kill him. It riled me because I don’t want my son to be constantly reminded of America’s unwarranted negative views of him. I don’t want his dreams for his future to die.
So, please forgive me when I get a bit emotional.