I first wrote about Treyvon Martin weeks ago. I finally blogged about it last week. But there was always a thought in the back of my mind that something was wrong.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t follow the crowd. When most people zig, I zag. And my friends routinely call me because I don’t live in the echo chamber that surrounds like-minded individuals. My favorite Saturday afternoon is reading a book by Milton Friedman, while listening to Tavis Smiley and Cornell West after I catch up on my podcast of Rush Limbaugh’s shows. Put simply…I am not your average bear.
But it took a lot – I think it was the screeching shouts by race hustler Al Sharpton, or maybe it was the trademark registration, or the legislators wearing hoodies at the statehouse – for me to start rethinking this Trayvon Martin thing. But the first inkling I had that something wasn’t quite right was when I found out Trayvon was suspended from school for 10 days and no one would say why.
Now a school suspension isn’t a big deal. I’ve never been suspended from school, though and if my child ever got suspended from school he’d be on lock down for sure, no cell phone, no NBA all-star game and yes, no Skittles. But that’s just me…
Still being suspended from school doesn’t make you worthy of death. But, let’s just say the seed was planted. Because as a journalist I think of the world in stories. But not in the way PR people do – like the firm working with the Martin family. PR and marketing professionals think of stories in rigid storylines, good vs. evil, bad vs. good but I, having been a police reporter for two years, on and off for eight years, know that life doesn’t fit neatly into those 60-minute television dramas like “Law & Order.” Bad men do good. And good men do bad. There are no true villains and heroes.
So when the storyline started getting more like an after-school special than real life the questions started to come.
Was it racism? Was he an innocent boy? Was George Zimmerman a wanna-be cop vigilante hell bent on stopping the “coons,” from robbing his neighbors?
Was Trayvon a thug, whom neither his parents, nor school officials could not control and rejecting their responsibility they unleashed this hood on upon unsuspecting innocents? Or was Trayvon a kind and compassionate kid who washed cars, wanted to be a pilot and took care of his disabled uncle?
These questions all asked do not really matter. What matters for the level-headed is 60 seconds of silence. It’s the 60-seconds that followed Trayvon’s interrupted cell-phone conversation with his girlfriend and proceeded George Zimmerman standing over a dead teen telling a bewildered woman to call the police. There were only two witnesses to those 60 seconds and one of them is dead.The other one killed him and well…here we are.
The facts of this case are short and the speculations could fill the Library of Congress.
I have no doubt that if George Zimmerman had done what the 911 dispatcher told him to do Trayvon Martin would be alive. I do not think this shooting was an accident. And I believe that no teen – no matter if he’s wearing a hoodie or an altar boy robe – should live in fear that some man will blow him away if they questioned him. No child deserves that death.
That’s what I believe. That does not stand up in court. And that is not fact. The fact is there are no real answers – at least not yet- to either set of questions. George Zimmerman deserves an unbiased trial but the PR machine backing this case isn’t going to give him one. I am not defending him, I’m defending the constitutional right for all Americans – black, white, Asian, Latino, Native America, Mestizo whatever – to be tried for our crimes in front of a jury of our peers.
I am chilled and scared that lawmakers are trying to skip that part. When a U.S. lawmaker says they will not rest until a person is arrested when there is not evidence yet that there is a crime well, my alarm bells go off. When Congress starts telling state prosectuors who to put behind bars that put chills up my spine. Because that’s exactly what happened during Jim Crow. And we don’t want to return to that system of injustice. Injustice anywhere – even against an armed suspect who shoots a teenager- is injustice everywhere.
Justice may not be blind but she shouldn’t be social media to death either.
As I’ve been gorging on the media over Trayvon’s death I’ve seen headlines that make me roll my eyes with such fervor I fear I’m going blind soon. The ignorance of the general public always comes out on things like this. I saw it with Kony 2012, with The Hunger Games and now with Travyon Martin. Any idiot with a keyboard is giving legal opinions. But the media circus, fueled by the social networks is in full spin and real journalists are too busy trying to keep up with the merry-go-round to do any real investigating.
I could go on and on but slowly but surely the circus has come to town and Travyon Martin is no longer a murdered human being but a paycheck for a lot of folk. But maybe this is the age we live in, the media age where death is a bloodsport that plays out on reality television. Thank you Hunger Games.
But all this erases the tragic fact: there will be another Trayvon Martin, lying dead in the street from a fatal handgun injury. But that next child murder victim will most assuredly not have a George Zimmerman. Black male youth are gun down on the regular but they are hardly ever – gun down by ordinary white citizens. (Blacks getting tortured or shot by cops is a different story).
Truthfully, Treyvon’s greatest threat before he walked down that complex sidewalk was not George Zimmerman it was another child who looked him. George Zimmerman is an outlier folks – we’re the biggest threat to each other. Here are some facts:
In the face of these facts it’s clear that George Zimmerman is not our problem. That Congressional hearings on as yet to be proven hate-crime is a little farcical in the face of these kinds of numbers. Only Mexican youth, in a nation embroiled in a brutal gang war, are more endangered than our young black men.
It crossed my mind that in some twisted way justice for Trayvon, for many of us, would make up for the injustice we see played out each day – of young black men being continual sacrifices to violence at the hands of other black men. It’s as if that battle is too big, too complex, too scary and tough to tangle and this one is just right, made for T.V, and easier to find resolution. For it’s easier to make a boogey-man, even if his evil is grounded in truth and point to him when we fear than to look at the mirror and point to yourself.
Do I cry for Trayvon Martin? I do. I cry because he died, and I cry for the life he could have lived. When I listened to those 911 tapes I couldn’t help but cry. There are those who say don’t use the Martin case to talk about black-on-black crime. They want us to focus on the racial wildfire that is sweeping this country. But to do that is to ignore the facts and to ignore the lives and deaths of black males like Trevonne.
My heart also hurts for another Trevonne. There were no rallies for his death. No hoodies worn in state legislatures. No NBA basketball team footwear sporting quotes for justice for him. No trending Twitter tweets, no celebrity cries for justice. Just a grainy video marking the moment he actually died, when an armed gunman walked up to Trevonne Winn, a man visiting relatives in New York City, pulled out a gun and shot him twice in the chest as onlookers looked and did nothing. Just another black male, dead on the sidewalk.
No one came to Trevonne Winn’s defense. His toddler daughter now doomed to live without her dad. His mother traveled without the NAACP or politicians or athletes at her side from her South Carolina home to collect her son who was wanted by the law down south. But she was left to bury her son alone. His killer, even though the killing was caught on tape, the murder occurred during the day, there were several witnesses – Trevonne’s killer remains free of capture.
People tend to follow the storyline they are fed. And the story line of Trayvon was too good to be passed upon. But the truth is if whites were as evil as the race hustlers want you to think they are we’d all be dead. No matter what they say, the “white man” is not our biggest problem. We are our biggest enemy. The self-hate that makes our lives less valuable to each other spills over to the wider world. And until we realize our problem is self-loathing, the racism that comes from it won’t dissipate. How can we expect others to love us, if we don’t love ourselves? How can we expect people to value black life, if we don’t value it oursleves? Being black should not be a reason to be profiled. But it also shouldn’t be a reason to be killed. Until we fix this internal issue where we don’t even care about our lives how can we expect the larger society to even make a dent in the issue?
In the past, the burden of the Negro, as W.E.B. Dubois, would always say was trying to fit in to a society that didn’t want us. This story line has been fed to all of us throughout the generations and it is a story based in truth. We have all been taught that our biggest problem is other, what others did, what they’re still doing, what they’re thinking about doing. We have created our boogey-man and he becomes the cause of all our ills. But when we chase him down, catch him and make him disappear, when we get resolution or justice for Trayvon, we’ll still have to deal with a much stronger enemy the boogey-man may have created but who lives because of us.
This blog is about race, color, terror and crime but not in the way you think.
First the salacious:
By now everyone knows about the case of Trayvon Martin. Well, they know that there is no criminal case concerning the death of Trayvon Martin and that has everyone outraged.
About four weeks ago, I read about Travyon Martin not in the media but because I belong to a group called Change.org. It’s an online petition nonprofit that allows individual citizens to galvanize support for their pet causes. Sometimes the causes are incredibly selfish – like trying to get off the day before Thanksgiving if you work as a retailer at Target – but most of them are cases that spark outrage such as the mother who was arrested and jailed for trying to get her child into a better neighborhood school.
And it was through a Change.org petition that I heard about Travyon Martin. Now the killing of a black, unarmed teen-ager by a armed vigilante with a history of violence should have been front page news. And me being a news junkie should have heard about it through the news media. But I didn’t. I heard about it through an online social network where people who feel they can’t be heard in the press take their cause straight to the people.
Since Travyon’s mother Sybrina Fulton and his father Tracy Martin started their petition, “Prosecutor the Killer of Our Son…” in February more than 500,000 people have signed that petition. Losing your child is a parent’s worst nightmare. But Tracy and Sybrina had an extra burden that many well-meaning but clueless people have no idea about.
It is a burden that every parent with a black teen-age son has had to add to the long list of anxieties they have about the safety of their children. It is a unique burden that if you’re not black or minority or live under the threat from the people who are sworn to protect you, well, you know nothing about it.
So please, don’t try to say you understand.
Columnist Deborah Mathis called this anxiety condition “Blackmotheritis,” in her 1997 piece on her son’s ascension to puberty. Conservative columnist John McWhorter revived the term in his 2012 piece on Trayvon.
The fear is common among minority mothers, especially African-American mothers. Millions share the same symptoms and the unfortunate reality that, as of yet, there is no cure.
Simply put “Blackmotheritis,” is the prevailing fear that makes black mothers break out into panic when their teen-age sons miss their curfews by minutes, decide to go to the mall, walk out their front doors. While white mothers blithely yell for their sons not to be too late for supper as they go out the house, the black mother watches her son’s fast footsteps with a thin smile on her face, steadying her waving hand, praying, pleading, asking the universe for her son to come home in tact without a bullet in his back.
Blackmotheritis stems from the fear that being black could one day mean you end up arrested, jailed, assaulted or murdered not from any fault of your own, but because of the crime pathology theory that dates all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.
This pathology, perpetuated by the media, law enforcement, public school systems, racists, and yes, the behavior of a few, and the mindset of millions, that allows people to see an alternative reality when they see black males. It is this pathology that allowed Trayvon’s killer to see the unarmed teen as a threat, even when he only had a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea in his hand.
No matter where the mother lives – be it Beverly Hills, south side of Chicago, million-dollar mansions or run down shacks, the black mother has the same fear for her black teen-age son. She fears someone will look at him and see something he is not – suspicious, a criminal, up to no good.
In the past,mothers only worried about law enforcement officers or armed gang members profiling their son, but as the Trayvon case tells us apparently black teen-agers can be gunned down on general principle these days, by any armed man fed up with black teens walking around free.
Like all incurable diseases “Blackmotheritis,” is caused by a mixture of abjection of personal responsibility, external uncontrollable factors and nature mysteries. Blacks are disproportionally jailed for crimes. This leads many – including media, law enforcement, judges, and even criminal themselves – to make the incorrect leap that blacks have a propensity for criminal activities.
Any social researcher will tell that’s false assumptions. But hey, how often do the American people pay attention to academic research? This false truth of the criminal black pathology – reinforced by the media, Hollywood, pundits, politicos, and racist philosophies – allows citizens to justify their harsh and cruel treatment of blacks.
And it is this prevailing criminal black pathology theory that has mothers of black sons tossing and turning at night.
I was once a facilitator of Community Conversations on Race. It was a civic experiment where people with differing views came together to discuss, debate and hopefully heal over food, laughter and a no-judgement atmosphere.
My group consisted of a conservative businessman, a mixed-race couple, a hippie restaurant owner, myself and a teacher. One day, the subject of racial profiling came up. The woman, from the mixed raced couple explained how her twin sons had just gotten their driver’s licenses and the first lesson she taught them was how to drive around law enforcement.
“I explained to them not to talk back to the police. How they should always have their hands in view, how they shouldn’t reach inside their pockets or make any sudden movements.”
The woman was Persian but she knew that if they police stopped her son they would be seen as black.
I remember trying to hold in my anger when a very liberal member of the group tried to chastise the mother, saying she was teaching her sons racism. The women went on accusing the mother of “reinforcing stereotypes,” and basically teaching her sons to be close-minded. As a facilitator it was my job to keep quiet but I just couldn’t let this one go.
“Until you know what it feels like to have the possibility that one of your children will not come home one night for no other reason than that they are black,” I gently said, “I would caution against judging a woman who lives with that reality.”
That shut her up and rightly so.
Many of my well-meaning white friends try to explain to me how they are color-blind and that they don’t see color. They question when I talk about the racial overtones of everyday news items and think, perhaps, I’m way too sensitive about race.
But the Trayvon case illustrates why race does matter in America, even if we pretend that it does not. You can hear it in the Sanford’s dispatcher’s questions to Trayvon’s shooter. The first thing he asks about is race. You can hear it in George Zimmerman’s responses. He doesn’t describe Trayvon’s height, weight, stature only his ethnicity then later his “hoodie.” And though people will try to tip toe around it.. when Zimmerman says “Those a**holes always get away with it…” we know he doesn’t mean those kids from the Jersey Shore.
Race is all over this case and you don’t need race pimps like Jesse or Al to see it. It seems so out of place in a nation with a black president, that a black teen-ager can be spotted, followed, assaulted and then killed and no one goes to jail. But sadly it’s not surprising.
Still, when Zimmerman’s father says tearfully his son isn’t a racist, that he has “black friends,” I do believe him. I believe that he doesn’t THINK he’s racist but in the end, like so many of us, he has fallen prey to the disease that says see a black male think “up to no good.” It is an insidious belief that has permeated our society and it’s going to take more than blacks and whites standing on the National Mall singing “We Shall Overcome,” to get rid of it.
Each time a mug shot is published that shows a black teen it convicts all black teens – nevermind that mug shots are taken when you are arrested not when you are proven to be a criminal. Each news story that shows black males in prison, as criminals, on the wrong end of the law reinforces the pathology. Though I believe in law and order I also believe in fair and balanced and black teen-age males have gotten the short-end of the stick when it comes to image.
Sometimes their bad reputations are self-induced – read Chris Brown – other times they are forced upon them – as the case of the 14-year-old whose teacher told him to read a poem “blacker,” when he read using perfect English in her class. As Paul Mooney says, images matter, and each time we see an image of a black teen-age boy in the wrong it cements in simple minds that all black teen-agers are that way.
This connection that people make between black teen-age males and danger is the assumption that gives black mothers everywhere anxiety-induced insomnia whenever their teen-age son is late for dinner.
We spend so much time focused on skin color that its absurd to think that it doesn’t shadow almost everything we are exposed to from the media to the justice system, race is front and center.
“I’m trying to protect him,” the Persian mother said in our circle. “I’m trying to make sure he comes home at night.”
I hear you sister. And I’m sure Trayvon’s mother would say the same.