Editor’s Note: What you are about to read is an editorial/opinion piece. Your opinion or beliefs may differ…I’m open to healthy, respectful discussion on the matter. I don’t claim to know precisely what happened during the evening of February 26, 2012. I base my opinion on what things we have learned about that tragic night, including but not limited to the 911 call and George Zimmerman’s statements then and since.
By now, just about everyone knows the story of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed February 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman, the leader of the neighborhood watch in his Florida community. There has been a lot of conjecture, a lot of talk, and a whole lot of emotion swirling around this tragedy.
I think that Trayvon Martin was killed (three weeks after his 17th birthday) for no reason at all, other than because he was a young black male. Let’s not kid ourselves. He wasn’t being “shady,” he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he wasn’t threatening anyone. He was black. And, today, like 50 years ago, like 150 years ago, that can be enough.
Trayvon Martin’s parents were guests on a recent episode of Dr. Phil. It was truly heart-wrenching. I think I cried the entire hour. Trayvon’s father had trouble maintaining his composure on multiple occasions. So did I.
Dr. Phil then tried to counsel Trayvon’s mother, and had everyone close their eyes as he shared an anecdote (it’s not a funny anecdote, obviously, but I think it would be called an anecdote) in an effort to help her realize Trayvon’s legacy. It was heart-wrenching for me, so I can’t imagine how his parents felt.
Dr. Phil’s website ran an unofficial poll on people’s opinions about George Zimmerman. These were the results at the time:
- Do you believe George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense? The answers (I don’t know what the sample size is, of course) were almost evenly split — 47 percent said yes, 53 percent said no. (I said no.)
- George is currently charged with second-degree murder. Do you believe he should be convicted? This is interesting — 56 percent said yes, while 44 percent said no. (I said yes.)
Of course, this wasn’t an official survey, so it’s hard to glean a true sense of how people feel about this situation. However, the man who killed Trayvon Martin has gotten plenty of support — by the time he was arrested and arraigned, he had received upwards of $200,000 in donations. The case has also come before a new judge (after Zimmerman’s request was granted by an appeals court — he alleged bias on the part of his former judge) and his legal team is requesting Trayvon Martin’s school records, going back to middle school. They also want to know about his social media activity.
The Martins’ lawyers argue that these legal maneuvers are an attempt to smear Trayvon Martin. “None of those things that are being subpoenaed is relevant to why Zimmerman profiled and pursued Trayvon and shot him in the heart,” one of the lawyers has stated. I couldn’t agree more.
For some reason, the senseless death of Trayvon Martin hurts my heart deeply. It has affected me in profound ways. It makes me think of my sons, who could walk to the convenience store — just like Trayvon — and never make it home, for no reason at all. I have two sons, one is 20, the other 18. They’re not unlike Trayvon. They’re good kids. They’re sensitive and bright and respectful and have good hearts. And they’re half black.
In this picture, my younger son is about Trayvon’s age. I don’t pretend to know what Trayvon Martin’s mother is feeling or how her son’s death has affected her. It’s an extremely personal experience, and not one I ever want to lay claim to. Yet it still eats away at me.
And when I think about Trayvon Martin, I think about my sons. And I feel all sorts of emotions…gratitude, appreciation, and love — but at the same time, fear and worry. Either of my sons could have “been” Trayvon. It is by the grace of some higher power — or perhaps their guardian angels — that neither of them have been.
Let me tell you about my 20-year-old son. He is polite, well-mannered, intelligent, responsible, thoughtful, considerate, and has a sharp sense of humor. He was a great student and a talented basketball player.
Last spring, he (then 19) worked the polls in the Pennsylvania primary. He spent more than 13 hours sitting in a folding chair at a small local church, writing down the names of those who came in to vote. On one side of my son sat a neighbor, the mother of a guy who happened to give my son his first (and only) tattoo, a Jesus portrait (which was covered by clothing). On the other side sat another neighbor, a woman who works at a local college and was anxiously trying to recruit him to enroll.
As I’ve mentioned, my son happens to be half black. Not that it matters.
Oh wait. It does. Being black always matters.
It happened to be chilly on Election Day, and the heat wasn’t turned on. Everyone tried to combat the chill with sweaters and jackets. My son was wearing a hooded sweatshirt — the dreaded scary “hoodie” — and when he got cold, he would put up his hood to stay warm.
That’s when another poll worker told my son that he looked like a hoodlum — because he was wearing a hoodie. He told me on the phone and, I admit, I freaked out. I was furious. And hurt. And disappointed. After all, he was a 19-year-old young man working the polls. Did she really think it was appropriate to call him a hoodlum?
I didn’t know this woman, the one who insulted my son and basically labeled him “suspect” and “criminal” for (what I considered) no reason at all, other than the fact that he is a young black male. You might think that’s a leap or that I’m “playing the race card,” but I made it a point to hang out at the polls for a bit, to see how she reacted when other people showed up in hoodies.
She didn’t give them a second glance. Does that mean she’s a card-carrying racist? No. But it sure means something.
Let’s be honest. I wear hoodies all the time. No one calls me a hoodlum or seems frightened in the least when I’m wearing one. Plenty of white males wear hoodies and they’re not considered criminals because of their sweatshirts.
But this woman didn’t even give my son a chance. There was no reason to; after all, she could immediately see that he was black and that was enough, for her, I suppose.
Being black was enough, when some woman who knew nothing about my son, who didn’t know how kind and patient and generous he is, called him a hoodlum. Because I’m not going to buy into some BS that a hoodie is threatening or frightening or indicative of criminal behavior. (Regardless of what Geraldo Rivera said about the “hoodie” being just as responsible as George Zimmerman for Trayvon Martin’s death.) That woman who called my son a hoodlum labeled him that way because he is black.
And, no matter what his killer says, I think Trayvon Martin was killed because he was a young black male. And that, in my opinion, is why he was deemed dangerous and a threat. And why he didn’t make it home that night.
Shortly after Trayvon Martin was killed, some Miami Heat players wore hoodies and posed for this picture. It was a powerful message.
A month after Trayvon was killed, Time’s Toure wrote “How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin: Eight talking points about the potentially fatal condition of being black.”
“It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong.”
That’s sad. But important. And — even more sadly — necessary.
In another of Toure’s talking points, he said:
“When I look at you, I see a complex human being with awesome potential, but some others will look at you and see a thug — even if their only evidence is your skin. Their racism relates to larger anxieties and problems in America that you didn’t create. When someone is racist toward you — either because they’ve profiled you or spit some slur or whatever — they are saying they have a problem. They are not speaking about you. They’re speaking about themselves and their deficiencies.”
And that’s why I’m glad I didn’t freak out on that woman, the one who made an insulting, degrading comment toward my son. There’s nothing wrong with my son…there’s something wrong with that woman, whether she realizes it or not.
On a side note, the woman who called my son a hoodlum was wearing a Jesus fish around her neck. That’s sad, too. Not that she’s a Christian…but because she didn’t act very Christian-like toward my son. For no reason at all.
Trayvon Martin’s parents have set up a foundation in their son’s name, to get justice, to advocate, and to honor his legacy. If you’d like more information (or want to get involved), check out the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation. Among their goals…to help organize, uplift, and advocate for the advancement of young people around the world who, for whatever reason, are judged to be “different,” and thus a “threat” to other people.
That’s a goal I stand wholeheartedly behind, not just for my children, but for everyone’s children. So that not one more “Trayvon” loses his life. For no reason at all.
That’s Travyon Martin’s legacy. At least I hope it is.
2/27/13 Update: Five Things You Should Know About the Trayvon Martin Case (CNN)