It had been almost 4 months since Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012.
I waited so long because I initially refused to write a single word on the affair because it hit so close to home for me on far too many levels: as a black male, as a father and a former resident of many gunned-out ghettos, the most beloved of which is my hometown of Trenton, NJ.
George Zimmerman might have been white, but Trayvon was but one of many young victims of gun violence in 2012. I grew increasingly tired of even thinking about the subject. So, I put it away. After reading about, and writing editorials on, the deaths of young black men, women and children over the past 15 years of my career as a journalist I swore that I would not write another word on the subject. What else can be said? Have we not exhausted the dictionary in describing death in the black community?
I also thought the piece was too angry and full of rage. I tried to edit it out, but could not. So, I put the piece away again, and watched the story unfold while fully expecting justice to not be served. Here we stand a full year later and my view of the American criminal justice system as it relates to blacks men remains as steadfastedly contrary as ever.
The media circus that surrounded Martin’s death was constantly updating the masses with enhanced photos of Zimmerman’s “defensive wounds”, liberal commentary on the affair, conservative salt mashed into the raw emotional wound of the Martin Family and images of Zimmerman being let out on bond twice.
Not to mention the television and radio opportunistic slithering-swine pandering stereotypes and black lies to the gobbling mouths of the white middle American masses for ratings. This despite he and his wife bungling their way to a perjury charge. An innocent black male is dead.
The accused, a white male from a privelged background, was allowed to go home on house arrest after posting bond. Welcome to America. That pretty scenario screams at a volume of infinite decibals. In memory of Trayvon Martin I’ve decided to publish what I should have a year ago.
I’ve tried to ignore it. Despite the news reports, the rallies, the deluge of Facebook posts feature individuals wearing hoodies and the gut-wrenching audio from the 911 calls that fateful evening of Trayvon Martin’s death, I’ve tried to just go about my life as best I could. Another black male slaughtered on America’s streets usually doesn’t get this much attention.
Despite the racial overtones of this particular circumstance, I’ve tried to just wait out the media storm. I’ve tried and tried to ignore it, but I simply cannot. I am a black man, the brother of 3 black men, the father of two black boys, the uncle to 3 black men and the son of a black woman.
I am well aware of the heavy burden that is placed upon black males daily. From the thousands of black men that are incarcerated, to the thousands that die violent deaths on America’s streets at the hands of other black men, to the black men who live thankless lives, to the millions that swallow the smoldering racism that is shoveled down their throats in America on a daily basis.
Despite all the flowery talk of a progressive America, the truth is that the vast majority of Americans carry racist overtures in their hearts when it came down to addressing black men in any societal venue. That goes for whites, Hispanics, Asians, and other black men as well.
Trayvon Martin turned 17 years old only weeks prior to his killing. At that age my appetite for activism was ravenous to say the least. Final Call reading, community meeting attending, youth mentoring, positive hip-hop artist supporting, Million Man marching, dredlock growing, adorned in tattoos and wearing t-shirts with militant meaning, African diaspora loving, authority hating and self-righteous was I.
Eventually becoming a father and trying to secure a financial foundation for myself and my own offspring would take precedence over the beautiful struggle. I took solace in the hope that the grassroots organizations similar to the ones that surrounded the “Million Man March” and the Free Mumia Movement, as well as countless other movements, would link up, strengthen and continue on in the fight against oppression in America, and violence in our own neighborhoods.
Boy, was I naive Movements take money and a lifetime worth of commitment. Just as I moved on to other things in my early 20s, so did countless others. You can’t eat a leather Africa medallion or Shea butter.
As an adult I now know that many of my prior assumptions regarding race in America were immature but the bottom line theme still remains true. The black man is still America’s favorite boogie man. Public Enemy #1 almost always looks just like me.
On the night of February 26, 2012 a resident of Sanford, Florida named George Zimmerman was operating under his own authority when he approached a young gentleman named Trayvon Martin who, adorned in a hoody and armed with a can of Arizona Ice Tea and Skittles candy, was on his way to see relatives in the gated community in which Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch.
Not much is clear of what truly happened that night, but we do know that Martin was shot and died on the cold concrete. We also know that Zimmerman pulled the trigger. According to Zimmerman it was an act of self-defense, according to Martin’s friends and family Trayvon was racially-profiled, stalked and shot dead.
Initially the Sanford Police department sided with Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, sighting scraps and bruises to Zimmerman’s head and face as evidence that he was attacked by Martin. However, as we now know, the 911 record dispatcher tells a different story.
According to 911 recordings, Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious figure “lurking” about his neighborhood The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to approach the figure and they would dispatch a patrol car. But no! Zimmerman didn’t wait for a patrol car, he approached Martin.
Meanwhile, Martin noticed he was being followed and mentioned this to a friend with whom he happened to be speaking with on the phone. He told the young lady he believed he was being followed. His natural fight or flight mechanism was already engaged. The only thing Zimmerman needed to do to activate it is confront him.
We now know that Zimmerman did in fact confront Martin. The manner in which he did so is still up for debate. Now, if a stranger confronts YOU regarding your right to walk down ANY street in America how would YOU respond? Fight or flight? According to Zimmerman, Martin attacked him and at which point he drew his firearm and fired in self defense.
Martin, not unlike many other young black men in America, died in a pool of his own blood before paramedics arrived. There’s video all over the internet of Zimmerman with scraps on the back of his head, indicating he was in a struggle of some sort. But who was acting in self-defense? A young black male walking down the street and minding his own business or a suspicious white man armed with a handgun?
The aftermath of these unfortunate circumstances have revealed America’s still putrid, racist underbelly to the world. Initially the Stanford Police department had no intention whatsoever of arresting Zimmerman nor recommending that he be charged with a crime, this despite a documented history of aggressive behavior.
They took his story on face value and assumed a dead black man was in the wrong. To say their actions were anything less than racist is foolishness. It also came to light that Zimmerman’s father is a retired judge.
Here, in the so-called bastion of democracy, you have two themes that run counter to the democratic idealism that we allegedly hold dear actively at play in the early attempts at sweeping a murder under the rug. Racism and nepotism.
If you don’t believe that Zimmerman’s father’s former position had anything to do with him initially not being charged with a crime, despite evidence to the contrary, then you are most assuredly a fool…or perhaps you’re rich and white. That is not to say that white people are fools, but when race and nepotism are involved many of our more affluent Caucasian countrymen fail to see the forest of racial understanding for the stereotypical trees more often than not.
In addition to racism and nepotism, Zimmerman’s constitutional right to bear arms also comes into play. He was a self-appointed member of the Sanford neighborhood watch. Ok, cool! Nothing wrong with a man looking out for his community. However, when Zimmerman called 911 his duties as a neighborhood watch volunteer ended.
When he made up his mind to follow Martin, armed with a weapon, Zimmerman had made up his mind to confront Trayvon because he was emboldened. Carrying cold steel will do that for a person. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is yet another element that conspired against Trayvon Martin on the fateful evening in question.
Zimmerman’s history of violence was is well-documented. He once assaulted a police officer, faced accusations of domestic violence, and once was fired from a job as a bouncer because of his temper and lack of self-control.
Though Trayvon had been suspended from school, and had faced other scholastic disciplinary measures, he did not have an arrest record. Zimmerman did and yet the Sanford police department accepted his story on it’s face, perhaps with some nudging from George’s father Robert. So, how does an individual who was once charged with assaulting a police officer even qualify to legally purchase a firearm?
There are many published reporters that state Zimmerman and his wife purchased their firearms as defense against roving pitbulls they say menaced their community. Who would have thought that with all the apparent perks that come with being the son of a judge, a direct hotline to the local animal control officer would not be among them.
Black celebrities, including top-flight professional athletes, all showed support for the Martin family during the “Million Hoody March” in which individuals took pictures of themselves wearing hoodies similar to the one which Martin was wearing. My heart was filled with pride at the site of celebrities taking up Martin’s plight and calling for justice.
But I eventually saw another stark reality. Despite the thousands of national incidents highlighting black on black gun violence, the black celebrity bourgeois seemed like it only mobilized to do something because a white man pulled the trigger. Black on black gun violence is a 35 year old problem in the African American community. What was initially a tasty little ray of black pride turned to dirt in my mouth.
April 2012, George Zimmerman released on $150,000 bond.
July 2012, George Zimmerman released for a second time after paying 10 percent of a $1 million bond.
Sept 2012 There was no DNA evidence from Trayvon Martin on Zimmerman’s gun. This does not support his claim that he and Martin were struggling for the gun.
December 2012 New photos taken the night of Trayvon’s death are released that reportedly show the full extent of George Zimmerman’s wounds.
February 5, 2013: On what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 18th birthday, Zimmerman’s lawyers are denied in their most recent attempt at delaying the June trial.
George Zimmerman is facing second degree murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. The trail is scheduled to begin in June. Meanwhile, supporters of the Martin family have begun building a makeshift memorial in his honor and intend on doing so every year.
The residents of the city of Sanford, Florida, both black and white, say they’re getting along much better these days. Nearly a century of racism and suspicion can be wiped out by a community coming together in the wake of the death of an innocent young boy, that’s the “feel good” American lesson that will be shoveled in our faces as Zimmerman moves closer to trial and the spotlight of the world is again focused on a “reformed” Stanford, Florida.
As George Zimmerman and his legal defense team continue manipulating the court, and public opinion, in their favor scores more African American teenagers will die from gunshot wounds. The overwhelming majority of their killers will be African American. Our country’s handling of black death is appalling, no matter the shooter’s color.
In some communities the wailing of ambulance sirens are only matched by the mournful cries of mothers and daughter kneeling at the dying place of husbands, sons, brothers and lovers. Who will cry for them? What vigils are to be held? What head of state will weep crocodile tears then?