My eyes had been forced open as I was violently awakened from a nightmare. A nightmare that had been played out over and over again in the media like a looping reel.
Man after man after boy after woman after child…
Over and over again.
My nightmare had been a late night pull over. Red and blue lights flashing behind us, urging us to the shoulder of the road. The cop approached the car and saw my son, my black son with long dreadlocks, in the driver’s seat. He asked my son to step out of the car. And, without argument, my son complied. The cop asked him to walk to the patrol car, out-of-range of the dashcam. He then drew his gun on my son. I saw what was happening and I got out of the car and shouted, “Why do you have your gun drawn on my son?” And I repeated it as I walked toward the cop. My son shouted for me to get back in the car but I continued walking toward them. I saw the cop position himself with the firearm aimed at my son’s chest. I dove in front of my son’s body just as the cop discharged the gun.
I woke up.
I replayed that scenario again, hoping for a different outcome. This time he’d shoot before I’d get near them.
I ran another scenario. And another. Then another.
Each time, same result.
Another black body riddled with bullets.
There’s no way to protect ourselves from a rogue cop. There’s nothing more frightening than being powerless when our lives are on the line.
We are unarmed.
We are forced to comply — sometimes brutally.
The cop has numerous weapons — billy club, taser, gun, flashlight, and the law.
The law is on his side.
I got up from my bed to get a drink of water to settle my racing heart and heavy breathing. I was frightened. No, I was terrified.
As I leaned against the counter sipping my water, I thought about Trayvon Martin. The fourth anniversary of his assassination is next month, and he was on my mind. The circumstances of his death was on my mind. His parents, who never got to see justice served, were on my mind.
Because I’m the mother of a black man. When seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was hunted and murdered, my son was sixteen years old. In my eyes, my son was Trayvon Martin. I felt the anger and pain and loss of this young man’s life because I could so easily see the face of my son in his place. So many black parents could see their sons in his place. So many black parents have seen their sons executed at the hands of zealous watchmen and cops and gangsters, that Trayvon Martin became the face for all of those young people who had been loss to gun violence and represented those young people who may follow.
Trayvon hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary that fateful day. And I’m sure he had no idea that when he set out for the convenience store to get some candy and a drink, he would never make it back home alive.
Why didn’t Trayvon Martin make it back home alive?
Some might argue that he had been mistaken for a burglar who’d broken into homes in the area. After all, the perpetrators were described as “black” males.
Some would argue that he provoked George Zimmerman by seeming suspicious, walking in the rain with a hood on his head, carrying something in his hand.
But the real reason why Trayvon Martin didn’t make it back home alive that night had been because he was black.
Blackness is the threat.
Blackness is the weapon.
How do I know that blackness is the threat and weapon that make cops “fear for their lives,” and community watchmen and neighbors call the cops?
Because it is rare that a jury convicts, even with video evidence demonstrating the act. It is equally rare that a Grand Jury indicts. They say, “surely the cops were justified.” Or, as we’ve seen on social media, memes that show a picture of a man holding two guns asking, “quick, which one is real?” As if twelve-year-old Tamir Rice caused his own death as he played outside at the recreation center. A place where parents assumed their children would be safe.
Black people’s transcendence from the status of mere property that had been bought, sold, and subjugated, to becoming a fraction of a human being, to receiving emancipation, to attaining the status of a full citizen, had taken roughly four hundred years. And in those four centuries, generation after generation of whites passed on their privilege and prejudice to their children, perpetuating the despicable condition of racism and the covert lie that blacks are savage animals to be caged, subjugated or, if encountered, exterminated.
They hanged us from trees.
They beat our bare skin with whips.
They dragged our beaten bloody bodies by the ankles behind pickup trucks.
They used water hoses to subdue us.
They raped our women and killed our men.
They used racial epithets to devalue us.
They broke up our families, erased our history and heritage, denied us our human rights, and changed our names and religion. And to solidify our disenfranchisement and marginalization, they perpetuated a lie about who and what we were. Even divided us as blacks so that we wouldn’t unify and rebel.
When we became entrepreneurs, they burned our businesses. When we met to unify, they bombed our churches. When we stood together in solidarity against incivility, they killed us.
With each decade that passed, the poor treatment of people with black skin became “normalized.”
Sort of like an inoculation.
Nobody really had any conscience about the way blacks were treated because, for them, that was the way it had always been, and that was the way it would always be.
So, as Trayvon Martin walked home in the rain, talking to his girlfriend on the phone, with ice tea and skittles in his hand, with a hoodie pulled over his head to protect him against the rain, he had no idea he was being hunted. His savage blackness inflicted fear and posed a threat that had to be neutralized and even exterminated.
So, when George Zimmerman was tried for second degree murder, he was acquitted. Why? Because a jury thought he was justified.
Savage. Blackness. Uncaged. Thug.
As I finished my water and headed back to my bed, I thought about so many others who had a similar fate. Then, my thoughts were like that Romper Room mirror — where all the names came rolling together.
A black woman pulls over without signaling, simply to get out of the way of the state police car behind her. She ends up in jail and later dies. Sandra Bland
A group of black teens stop to get gas at a gas station while listening to their music that seems to offend another customer. One of the black teens die. Jordan Davis
A group of kids decide to throw a pool party at one of the kid’s community pool. The black kids get racial slurs spewed at them and are later detained and manhandled by police. A young girl gets tossed to the ground with a knee in her back. Dajerria Becton
A black couple’s vehicle backfires and 137 shots are fired into their car by officers in 12 police cars. Fifteen of those shots occur while a cop stands on the hood of the couple’s vehicle firing through their windshield. Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell
A black man knocks on a woman’s door looking for help after an accident. He ends up dead. Jonathan Ferrell
A little black boy playing on a playground with a toy pistol, ends up dead. Tamir Rice
A young man, on the platform of a public transportation station, after an altercation with someone on the train, ends up dead. Oscar Grant
A black kid in a hoodie walks home from a convenience store with ice tea and skittles in his hand, he ends up dead. Trayvon Martin
In ALL of these cases, the black man/child/woman is unarmed. Just the mere blackness of their skin seemed to be the offense — melanin was the deadly weapon.
I climbed back into my bed and closed my eyes hoping that I would find a restful sleep. As we approach February 26, a day that marks four years since Trayvon Martin’s assassination, I wonder, sadly, will we ever be free.