|By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
I actually started writing this post on MLK Day, the day our first black president gave his second inauguration address. I was reflecting on the Reverend's dream about not being judged by the color of our skin and whether it had finally come true when Trayvon popped into my head. I pictured him in his hoodie and answered my own question with a heavy no. The one-year anniversary of the shooting that claimed Trayvon's life was approaching and so was the trial of his killer, self-deputized neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. I hoped against hope that justice would be served but was careful not to get my hopes up.
In the aftermath, many people implied that Trayvon somehow deserved what happened to him. Questions about what he was doing walking in that neighborhood at night wearing a hoodie (read: the uniform of a hoodlum) rose above questions about the actions of the man in violation of his own community's code of conduct. They dragged Trayvon's history into the debate (a suspension from school for marijuana possession) as if that proved he was up to no good that fateful night. At the end of the day he was a kid. All kids make mistakes, none of them should die for it. If every adult in this country were given a death-penalty hearing for the bone-head mistakes we made in our youth very few of us would be found not guilty.
The fact in plain black & white is that an unarmed black teenager was stalked and shot like an animal by a suburban vigilante with a gun. And America largely sees no problem with this because, after all, black boys die on the streets of LA, Chicago, and Brooklyn all the time (often by the hands of one their own). So what makes this kid so special, right?! To put it in simple terms: everyone's life is precious. those who steal life must be held accountable. George Zimmerman should have been punished for instigating a confrontation that ended with a child losing his life.
Now a jury of his peers has let Zimmerman walk away from his crime. He gets to walk away, AGAIN. The country will move on to other issues. But his parents won't. His friends won't. Social justice advocates won't. I won't. His face will haunt me, reminding me to keep agitating. When I look into my son's eyes, I see Trayvon's reflection sometimes. And I make a vow not to raise my son with double standards. I refuse to subject him to Jim Crow-like rules such averting his eyes and mumbling "no-sir" when confronted by an authority figure. I refuse to because that would be teaching my son that he is second-class citizen.
There was a time when men settled their difference with their fists and the loser left with a broken nose and a bruised ego. But both men lived to fight another day. These days a grown man can pick a fight with a teenager and then shoot-to-kill when he loses the upper hand. So who is really the thug in this scenario?
Trayvon stood his ground that night but the law was not on his side.