The Travyon Martin case has truly shaken me to my core. As an African American woman I think about the potential of bringing African American males into this world and the problems they may face simply because of their race and their gender. I can tell my hypothetical son to pull up his pants, be polite, follow all rules and laws, and be respectful to authority figures especially cops. I can even provide the best education that money can buy perhaps even an Ivy League education and yet someone will still look at my hypothetical son as a potential criminal or a threat. Simply walking down the street with a hoodie on a rainy night in his neighborhood could raise suspicions.
After reading this case the thought crossed my mind of how do you prepare your child to go out into a world that has already judged them before even knowing his name? I come from a law enforcement family and never feared law enforcement like many of my African American peers but I was still taught the realities that African Americans face during interactions with law enforcement. The ironic thing is despite instilling African American males with morals and encouraging them to respect the laws of the land you have to tell them that despite following the law they still may be questioned as if they are a common criminal. That seems to put young black men in an awkward place that regardless of their efforts to live a virtuous life they may be treated the same as a criminal by the police and even self appointed neighborhood watch captains.
I look at the Martin case and say based on the facts that we know what could Trayvon have done differently? How could his parents have prepared him for this type of situation, a young black male walking alone with a hoodie in a gated community? I am at a loss. In a statement the Sanford police chief stated that George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon, wished he could change his actions that night and he Trayvon probably would as well. I disagree. Trayvon was walking to the store to pick up a drink for himself and a pack of Skittles for his brother. He was walking in the neighborhood that housed the home he was visiting. He like Zimmerman had every right to be there. Zimmerman admits that he was following Trayvon and also stated Trayvon was looking at him. Is that not what Trayvon would have been taught by his parents? Always be aware of your surroundings are things my parents told me. From there Zimmerman states that Trayvon began to run. Toddlers are taught to run away from danger. I would imagine that Trayvon thought a man staring at him from a vehicle was a potential threat to him. Trayvon’s family likely told him how to handle interactions with police officers but it is important to remember that Zimmerman is not a cop and Martin’s response to him should not be judged as if Zimmerman was.
Then we know that an altercation ensued between Trayvon and George Zimmerman. In a statement from his father, Zimmerman claims that he did not follow Trayvon or approach him but from the 911 tape it is clear that the initial interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was initiated by Zimmerman because HE got out of his car and followed Trayvon Martin. Think back to what your parents told you to do in these types of situations. A strange man who is significantly larger and older than you approaches you. Zimmerman may have asked questions or he may have jumped to trying to physically apprehend Martin because it is clear that he thought he was a cop. First it was instilled in me to not speak to strangers, or answer questions. In addition my parents told me to scream for help, and finally if all else fails you fight off the stranger. That is what the evidence, particularly the 911 tapes, tells me that Trayvon did. Trayvon did exactly what his parents likely told him to do; yet he is no longer here.
So again I say how do we prepare our young black males for the scrutiny that they ultimately will face? They can approach a situation with all the things their parents taught them and still be murdered and the justice system is unable to pursue charges. I honestly do not know the answer and that is truly what scares me. So many young black men could easily be Trayvon Martin. In addition to charges being brought against George Zimmerman, I hope that this case brings racial profiling to the forefront again, encourages changes in Florida’s self defense laws and even potentially regulations for neighborhood watch vigilantes.