Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Somebody's Child


I just listened to the 911 tapes from the evening 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain. The boy looked suspicious to him and he called the cops. The teen, who is Black, had gone to the store to buy Skittles for his little brother during half-time of the NBA All Star game on February 26. Skittles and a can of iced tea were all he had on his person when George Zimmerman came at him. Numerous calls from neighbors in the gated Sanford, Florida community poured in to 911, all reporting a young man screaming for help. On one of the calls, you can hear Trayvon screaming. Then a single gunshot. Sudden silence. The man on the 911 call moans, "Oh my God, oh my God, he's dead."

The first of the 911 tapes is from Zimmerman himself. He tells police, "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. He's just staring, looking at all the houses. He's got his hand in his waistband. Something's wrong with him." Police told Zimmerman not to go after the young man, but Zimmerman chased him down anyway. The teen called his girl friend and told her that he was being followed by a strange man, he didn't know why. The girl told him to run. He said he didn't want to, but he eventually did run. Probably, he knew that a young Black man running is instantly taken for a criminal. He was no criminal. Treyvon Martin had no record. George Zimmerman, on the other hand, had past violations, including an assault of a police officer. Yet police questioned the shooter and let him go that same evening. No charges were filed.

Apparently, Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which allows a person to shoot to kill another person so long as he says he felt threatened. If there is no one around to refute the claim, well, I suppose you just might walk free. It's a bad law, currently on the books in 23 states in some form, and it sorely needs to be changed. Even so, that law does not apply here, because Zimmerman pursued a child doing nothing more than walking along the sidewalk to his father's home. How do you claim self-defense when you are the pursuer? Zimmerman went after this child despite explicit instruction from the police not to do so. On the 911 tapes, as he decides to ignore the police, Zimmerman mutters a racial slur, and he also says, "These assholes always get away." Clearly, the only one threatened in this scenario was Trayvon Martin, who so many people heard screaming for help before a gunshot silenced him.

A lot of folk are asking, if the boy who was shot had been White, would they have let Zimmerman go so quickly? No one is asking this: If the boy had been White, would the watch captain even have noticed him walking home from the store? Everyone knows the answer to that question. It's Danroy Henry and Sean Bell and Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo all over again in the sense that, in the rooted consciousness of the nation, a Black male is first and foremost a suspect. Guilty of something.

Global Grind writer Michael Skolnik made much the same observation:

"I will never look suspicious to you," he wrote. "Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers on. In fact, that is what I wore yesterday. I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you. I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me. I won't have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can run my plates. I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get stopped and frisked. I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only. The color of my skin. I am white...

But, let's be clear. Let's be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following [Trayvon Martin] against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher. Before any altercation. Before any self-defense claim. Before Travyon's cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes. Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest. Before all of this. He was suspicious. He was suspicious, suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn't because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers. Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood. It was because of one thing and one thing only. Trayvon is black."


I look at the pictures of Trayvon Martin and all I can see is somebody's child. I pray for a world in which that's all everyone sees when they look at these pictures, too.

Here's the thing. I didn't want to write about this. I didn't want to put this sadness on my blog. It was one time too many. I tried not to know the details, to pretend it hadn't happened. But I couldn't do that in the end. I felt I owed it to Trayvon's family to bear witness to his short life and senseless death. Even if they eventually get justice, his family will never be the same.

You can sign a petition calling for further investigation here.

18 comments:

  1. You are right about that. And as mother's of black sons we always have it in some part of our minds. I know I do.

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  2. Thank you thank you thank you, my friend.

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  3. Oh god. And it's true. It happens all the time. All the time.

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  4. this breaks my heart. I'm going to send you a pic of my newest little "grand" son. His father has been an integral part of our family for years. He calls me Mom.

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  5. Sometimes the brokenness of us is overwhelming.

    xoxo

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  6. Oh god. I am so humiliated that this happened in my state. I have been following this. I am so angry. I am so...sad.
    Bless that child's heart and his parents' hearts and it's WRONG and the goddam thing is this- justice can never be done, no matter what. He is gone.
    Phew.
    I'm glad you posted this. It needs to get out of state.

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  7. i signed the petition this morning.

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  8. It took 2 weeks for the news of what happened to TrEyvon to reach mainstream media. I hope that awareness will bring about justice. It just really sucks that Treyvon had to die.

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  9. This story was on the news here in France yesterday. Unbelievable. What's going on over there? The killer wasn't even arrested? Looks to us like you still have SERIOUS race/justice problems. I am dumb-struck!

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  10. I, too, have been following this since it broke on the news. I remember the first time I saw a picture of the young victim, I thought to myself, My God, he's a baby, he's tiny; what is there to scare you? I try not to judge anymore (and when you don't pass judgment, that "hole" fills up with sadness), but I have to wonder, what was the motivation that compelled a man who had reported someone he believed to be "suspicious" on a 911 call from his car, to leave that car and follow his "suspect" on foot? Who appears to be the aggressor in this scenario.

    Was it racial? Is there a nose on your face? I sometimes think the problem with racism in America is that "none of are racists", so it's very hard to deal with it when it confronts us in a fashion such as this. Of course, that is BS. I was raised in America and subtly educated to be a racist, not a cross-burning one (that was frowned upon by the time I was born) but an "enlightened" one, polite and courteous.

    I confront my racism every day—I have to, I live in a hot, sticky melting pot called New Orleans. I believe racism burns in everyone of us, and until we damp the flame, children will continue to die for the "crime" of stepping out from behind four walls.

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  11. This happened right here where I live, and it's on the news all the time, everyone is talking about it, everyone is horrified.

    We can thank Jeb Bush for the fact that this murderer has not been arrested; he signed the Stand Your Ground law here in Florida, which expanded upon the right of a person to use deadly force against someone threatening them in their own home. The Stand Your Ground law makes it legal (LEGAL!) to use deadly force against someone threatening you anywhere, on the street or in a parking lot or wherever. And clearly you don't even have to prove that they threatened you.

    Here's an interesting article in our local paper: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-03-19/news/os-trayvon-martin-law-beth-kassab-032012-20120319_1_castle-doctrine-unarmed-man-law-enforcement

    But yes, as Ms. Moon says, justice can never be done. And it makes me cry, too.

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  12. I heard those tapes just this morning. It made me very, very sad, too. That mother. That father that lost their boy. He was my boy. He was your boy, too. And we are his mother. This is so sad. So, so awful.

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  13. This hurt the mother in me when I saw this on the news. A beautiful boy gone. I am angry at that man for carrying a gun and knowing full well he would use it. Why is he not in jail?! I am angry. I feel for his family and friends. It is stories like this that having me shaking my head at humanity.

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  14. I really appreciate all the heartfelt and deeply thoughtful comments here. Such piercing honesty and food for thought. Thank you.

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  15. I am from Vancouver Island in Canada and this story has been on the news. I can't even begin to wrap my head around any of it. I have so may questions but there are no answers. In a month from now everyone will have forgot about this but this family will have to go on without their beautiful son. How will they ever come to a resolution?
    I don't know. The world makes no sense to me. No sense at all.

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  16. I've been watching this too, it is heartbreaking.

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  17. I'm real glad you've spelled it out here - thank you.
    xoxo

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  18. I'm with you all the way. This was an appalling and senseless act and one that needs to be prosecuted.

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