You live your life, doing your best to live fearlessly, but there’s some fears that are never fully expunged. You see, my son is 12 years old. Since the beginning of this school year, he’s been afforded more freedom. He rides the New York City subway by himself. He goes to hang out at friends’ houses. He meets friends at the basketball courts up the block from our place. But there’s this concern that always arises when he’s late getting home or when he doesn’t answer his phone. It’s a fear that the city has swallowed him up.
So, when I read stories about Trayvon Martin (above), it absolutely wrenches my heart. Have you heard this story? 17-year-old Martin leaves the development he and his father were visiting to take a walk to a nearby 7-Eleven. He volunteered to get his 7-year-old brother a snack. On the way back, he’s spotted by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who’s toting a 9mm handgun. Zimmerman thinks Martin “looks suspicious,” follows him, and an altercation ensues. It all ends with Martin dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Did I mention he was carrying an iced tea and a pack of Skittles?
Did I also mention that his happened on February 26 and that Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged? 18 days.
Did I mention that I’m pretty certain what would’ve happened if it were a white guy who was killed by a black neighborhood watchman. . . ?
In his New York Times op-ed, Charles Blow writes:
As the father of two black teenage boys, this case hits close to home. This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them “suspicious.” That passions may run hot and blood run cold. That it might all end with a hole in their chest and hole in my heart. That the law might prove insufficient to salve my loss.
That is the burden of black boys in America and the people that love them: running the risk of being descended upon in the dark and caught in the cross-hairs of someone who crosses the line.
He closes with the following:
One of the witnesses was a 13-year-old black boy who recorded a video for The Orlando Sentinel recounting what he saw. The boy is wearing a striped polo shirt, holding a microphone, speaking low and deliberately and has the heavy look of worry and sadness in his eyes. He describes hearing screaming, seeing someone on the ground and hearing gunshots. The video ends with the boy saying, “I just think that sometimes people get stereotyped, and I fit into the stereotype as the person who got shot.”
And that is the burden of black boys, and this case can either ease or exacerbate it.
So, yeah, this is one fear I can’t seem to shake. But it means that action is needed. First and foremost, we need to make sure the justice system works for everyone. That means staying vigilant and demanding justice. And, as New Yorker Nicholas Peart wrote, we need to make police departments end “stop and frisk” policies, since they only seem to be directed at black and brown youth.