I am heartsick over the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Perhaps that is proof that despite my advanced age, I am still idealistic enough to believe that our political systems can still work, that with enough work and will, we can actually realize a country that values liberty and justice for all.
We still have a long way to go.
I do take heart in a couple of things:
My husband — who has trouble understanding how he’s been a beneficiary of white male privilege, who thinks it’s funny to crack racial jokes to me (not because he is a bigot, but because he enjoys seeing my reaction to them) — this man may have been even more upset by the verdict that I, confessing to me last night that he had not been able to get it out of his head.
And my daughter — who rolls her eyes whenever I start ranting about the latest Tea Party injustice — had been following the case as intently as I. And maybe now she is beginning to understand why I’ve become so obsessed with our nation’s politics.
She is 17, just like Trayvon at the time of his shooting. When she runs out to the store to buy a snack or drink, I have every expectation that she’ll return home swiftly and safely… just as Trayvon’s parents did. The thought that a stranger could follow her, threaten her and kill her if she tries to defend herself — and then get off scot-free makes my blood boil.
But of course, that scenario is not likely to happen to a slender white girl, even if she is wearing a hoodie. But that scenario should not happen to anyone.
I was stunned when I learned of the verdict on Saturday night. I was at a loss for words, so spent most of Sunday reading what others had to say about Trayvon Martin’s killer going free. And the best commentary was not by the usual pundits, but from moms and dads who blog:
About four years ago I was at the grocery store when I noticed some checkers keeping an extra close eye on a teenager who was shopping for candy. I quickly realized it was my neighbor’s son (who was almost six feet tall and about 12 years old at the time). The checkers, who I’d come to really enjoy, were looking at this child with suspicion and something else, something I can’t give a name to and something I’d hoped never to see. Something my white children are unlikely to ever experience. I felt the bile rise in my throat and I walked up to him and said, “Hi honey, what’cha buying? Can I pay for your candy today?” All while glaring at the checkers. He, of course, declined. Having his own money and, quite candidly, his parents make more than Mr. G and I ever have.
This was one of those moments where I understood that my whiteness could protect me and my children and that, tragically, my whiteness would protect my neighbor’s boy from a community that distrusted him. A community that didn’t see a sweet pre-teen with a ridiculously bright smile, but rather a criminal because he’s the wrong color and he’s bigger than they are.
— Jessica Gottlieb, Sometimes it’s Easier When We’re With Our Own Kind: On Race Martin and Zimmerman
I’ve seen my black male relatives and friends followed around stores, denied jobs, and told apartments are already rented when they’re not. I’ve seen them have to learn the nuances of what to do when the’re approached by law enforcement. I’ve been in the car with them when they get pulled over and questioned for having expired city stickers or license plates, which are not actually expired. Tail lights which are supposedly out when the cops pull you over but then they magically work after they’ve run your ID.
This past year in sixth grade, my 12-year-old was pegged as the scary black aggressor after he punched a white kid. The kid was always getting in trouble for misbehaving, had a history of harassing my son, calling him racial names and swearing at him, and then made the mistake of pulling my son’s shorts down in gym class, which pushed my son over the edge. I sat in a school counselor’s office boiling as the white child cried that my son had been intimidating him and that he was scared of him, and oh, my son pulled down this kid’s shorts first. The white child’s version of what happened was being given credence until I threatened to go to the LAPD and file a hate crime and sexual harassment complaint against the other kid.
“I am Trayvon Martin” isn’t just a slogan on a t-shirt for us.
I felt sickened when I heard the verdict, for the message it sends to black men . . . that they can be followed on suspicion of being a thug for appearance alone, and then killed if they don’t defer. After I shed some angry tears and talked about it with Mark, I logged onto facebook, expecting things to look similar to the days following Trayvon’s murder. I expected to see people of color expressing outrage, and most white people staying silent. I was comforted to find that, at least in my feed, my white friends were just as outraged as my friends of color. And not just transracial parents, who have been ejected from the privilege seat because they have a stake in the game. I saw people of all races and generations, equally disturbed that a young black man was followed and killed with no consequence.
Of course, I also saw people who denied that race had anything to do with it. And if you are one of those people, I hope you will keep reading.
— Kristen Howerton, Finding Justice for Trayvon: Seven Action Steps for Our Outrage
And then, there was this insightful essay (It Starts When You’re Always Afraid) from Greg Fallis, who draws the line between George Zimmerman’s fear and the erosion of civil liberties in this country that has escalated since 9/11:
George Zimmerman is a fear-biter. I don’t think he followed Trayvon Martin and killed him because Martin was black. I think he followed Martin and killed him because he was afraid. I think Zimmerman carried a firearm because he was afraid. I think his fear caused him to respond irrationally to a threat that didn’t exist. And I think there are a lot of George Zimmermans out there.
The United States has become a nation ruled by fear-biters. A lot of our social policies are grounded in fear, and much of that fear is totally unfounded. We’re afraid of terrorists, so we find ways to weasel around the law in order to round up the people we’re afraid of and lock them away forever where we can’t see them. ‘Indefinite detention’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’ are other forms of fear-biting.
But that fear and hatred is a thread that’s woven so deep into the fabric of our country that unraveling it isn’t easy. In 2013, there is still much to do.
I’m still thinking about Travyon, and I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about him for a long time to come. We can not rest until it is safe for all of our children to walk to the store, no matter how they are dressed or the color of their skin.