Say what you want, but a child is dead and folks are celebrating.
There has been a lot said, in fact, about a neighborhood watchman walking free after a jury of all women found his hostile patrolling and killing of an unarmed young man well within the law. Much of it angry, some of it indignant. It is, after all, a First Amendment right to articulate your estimation of what went down the night George Zimmerman took Trayvon Martin’s life. But it’s hard to use this, as many have urged, as an opportunity to engage in an honest conversation about the lingering takeaways from the case–race and racism–when there is a denial that race is at all a factor. When there is no value placed on the life of a young black man. When speculation of Trayvon’s character, assumptions of his motivation and fear of the color of his skin are used as justification for his violent demise. When fists are pumped in support of his murder.
As protesters hit the pavement in cities across America following the not guilty verdict, the conversation is ongoing in the court of public opinion that is social media. It is a digital demonstration of status updates, tweets and gifs marching in single-file scrolls reaching to express the most captivating headline. A retweet signifies an army, a shared solidarity, and so we are all in essence, saying the same damn things to everyone and no one at once.
Even so, it is worth taking a peek at the degree of foolishness people are eager to spew publicly about this case:
I rather let my tax $ pay for protection of Zimmerman than the idiots on section 8 health insurance and food stamps #LongLiveZimmerman
— Pikkemys1 (@pikkemys1) July 14, 2013
— Paul Allen (@abender28) July 14, 2013
Now that’s justice #LongLiveZimmerman
— MJ (@MarissaJ73) July 14, 2013
— Joe (@Joe_Tammaro) July 14, 2013
— Adam Kast (@Adam430k) June 29, 2013
In my opinion, Zimmerman is innocent and was being attacked by a young thug (Martin) and he defended himself accordingly. #freezimmerman
— Thomas Harris (@thomascharris) June 29, 2013
SUMBODY MUST KILL ZIMMERMAN ASAP!!!!
— $$$FAT TREL$$$ (@FATTREL) July 14, 2013
if I lived in Florida I would personally kill Zimmerman, like no joke
— Addiction?Tattoos (@LamarBeenReal) July 1, 2013
1,2 George I’m Looking For YOU. 3,4 Better Lock Your Door. 5,6 Hope You Shitting Bricks. 7,8 Hope Your Fatass Get Raped. 9,10 KILL ZIMMERMAN
— August4thTakeOff? (@GottaGetItJames) July 15, 2013
#LongLiveZimmerman? So yeah, let’s talk.
First, it’s impossible to develop a productive dialogue when there is a consistent game of keep-away in play at the first mention of racism against African Americans. It’s as if it is the dignitary of all indignities, that which shall not be mentioned. “It’s time black people start taking accountability for their own livelihood and stop blaming the racism,” is an actual Facebook comment from a white woman posted Saturday night and a common sentiment. We’re asked to overlook racism and yet no one is willing to let pass the persistent and dire effects it manifests, like violence, profiling and unemployment, when blaming African Americans for their own fate.
I don’t know whether or not Zimmerman is racist. I just know a kid is dead because a man had a hunch that Trayvon was an intruder in his gated community. It didn’t occur to Zimmerman that the boy belonged there. That he was outside to take a private phone call or needed fresh air or was en route from the store or just found solace in the drops of rain on his skin. He saw a young black man, deemed him a criminal, felt threatened and pulled the trigger with full confidence in the law of the State of Florida. And he is today, walking the earth freely without so much as a chafe on his wrist from a handcuff. Admit it. Accept it.
And by the way, we deserve an explanation for what sparks that fear. It’s not enough to point to the aggressive music a black boy enjoys or his sagging waistband as signposts of danger. We continue to endure these incidents in which the sight of blackness elicits deadly reactions with alarming regularity. While some claim that race played no part in Trayvon’s death, we know history so we know better. We know that these “accidents” happen with fair regularity to young men of color. We know Sean Bell. We anticipate the film portrayal of Oscar Grant. Perhaps white men carry more recognizable wallets or cell phones because it seems police rarely mistake their accessories and movements as life threatening.
Brothers on the other hand, are under attack in gated complexes and every day within their own communities. While Trayvon has become a national symbol, it is true that there exist local casualties by the thousands that don’t elicit coast-to-coast protests. Black kids kill their peers at an alarming rate and it goes largely unnoticed by the national media. Once again, there is a tendency to use the hood to deflect attention from racism perpetrated by whites against blacks as if there is no room for resentment on both fronts. To deny there is outrage over the shooting death of a16-year-old boy in Chicago over the weekend is to sidestep the curbside vigils and prayer services held in cities daily. If thousands gather for a stop-the-violence rally in New Orleans or Newark or Detroit or Oakland but it doesn’t appear on CNN, did it really happen? Don’t insinuate that tears for Trayvon equal apathy for the countless youngsters gunned down by their own. Both are appalling examples of the scope of assault on our children.
Trayvon’s death is an important tipping point, the whistle of a kettle boiling over. Folks march in search of an end, on a hunt for the place where a black child can be safe. The legacy of the legal victories of civil rights is ingrained in the generations downstream, and that pride flows into demands of resistance to institutional racism, particularly in our justice system. Our fear of that same system places a very real barrier to controlling the rampant violence amongst our own.
To suggest there is no winner in a case in which a killer is free to hit up Waffle House this morning is a bitter bitch slap to the losers; those who starve for justice in a system fed by fear. In a world that’s legal system perpetuates panic at the mere sight of a scared, hooded black boy, what was Trayvon supposed to do? How was he, unarmed, supposed to stand his ground after being stalked and followed by a “creepy ass” strapped “cracker”?
If you’ve spent any time around a teen boy you come to predict their behavior. They are by nature curious, anxious, testing their boundaries, resisting control, asserting their independence. In constant fear of doing the thing that will expose the child that still lingers beyond the faint hint of a mustache. So imagine the fear of a young man who knows he is being watched, tested, hunted. You can’t imagine, unless you are a black man, the layers of complication added by the color of his skin. So yeah, in a display of the full range of human emotions afforded to whites and often denied blacks (lest they be branded “angry” or “militant”), people are on edge. Black and white. And they are being watched and tested.
Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman saw him and was terrified. Today, thousands continue to march, out of fear for their children. Beneath the debate and emotion and anger and media opportunism and defeat and celebration, a child remains buried.