Tears hit my black keyboard as I typed through my anger, frustration, sadness of a seven-year-old girl killed by police gunfire while they served a no-knock warrant at her home in Detroit. Her name was Aiyana Jones. My head hurt. My heart ached. That was May 16, 2010.
Almost two months later, July 8, 2010, ESPN televised “The Decision” featuring LeBron James. He would announce his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. I didn’t care about that. More importantly that day the trial verdict of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was announced. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of shooting a handcuffed (unarmed) Oscar Grant in the back as he lie face down on an Oakland train platform. Mehserle’s was sentenced to four years in prison. The grief of Grant’s parents, family, friends may last a lifetime. Once again I wrote about the lack of justice. I wrote it so I’d never forget his name.
Of course there was Amadou Diallo. Latasha Harlins. Eleanor Bumpers. Sean Bell. Kathryn Johnston (who was 92-years-old). Danroy Henry. All unarmed. All killed by those who view blacks as a threat.
Seven days before my 27th birthday I marched for Trayvon Martin. His only crime was being black in America. At 17-years-old he was gunned down with only having a can of iced tea and Skittles in his pocket. His murderer, a captain of the neighborhood watch, is still free. I chanted for justice. I yelled his name hoping that onlookers taking photos and recording video would remember. Hoping the same onlookers would go home and be moved to action. Really, hoping they remembered his name.
A week before the march I cried. I cried because, once again, we were here, at this place. A place where the ugly stains of racism in America had reared its ugly head. For the zillionth time. Only this time it wasn’t a police officer who pulled the trigger. With the large outcry and help of social media, mainstream media finally took an interest in the case. If it had been a police officer who’d shot Trayvon his death would have been swept under the rug like countless others. For the umpteenth time a black family was left to mourn the life of a child who should still be alive. I felt helpless as I had so many times before when there was no justice for a murdered black life. I was outraged that black life, again, meant nothing to America.
On Friday, March 17, the 911 tape of George Zimmerman calling in what he thought was a “suspicious” person was released. Another 911 tape of a witness calling in the gun shot she heard from her apartment was also released. I regrettably listened. Zimmerman told police “they always get away.” Later it sounds as if Trayvon Martin is pleading for his life. Almost 30 days later the murderer of Trayvon Martin remains a free man.
Unfortunately, the end of Trayvon’s life isn’t new to black Americans. He is one of thousands killed by racist, bigoted vigilantes and police who don’t see a human, but instead a black boogeyman. We are left to pick up the pieces and demand justice. Instead of the right thing being done by our justice system, we have to sign petitions, call the police department en masse to demand justice, write emails, send letters and organize marches while Zimmerman remains a free man.
Everyday black males are in jeopardy of being gunned down. Not because they have committed a crime. Not even for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But because of the fear that society at large has of black males. And that the media continues to perpetuate in news, television, print and film. Black males are charged with the onus of being non-threatening so that the little old white lady doesn’t feel the need to clutch her purse when she sees him. They are charged with not wearing a hoodie so that someone doesn’t mistake them for being “suspicious.” Black males run the risk when driving a luxury car through a suburban neighborhood of being pulled over for driving while black. It is their obligation to avoid these types of situations. Never is it the obligation of our country to fix the ill it was built on.
I was sitting in traffic in route to the Million Hoodie March while Trayvon’s parents spoke in Union Square. Trayvon’s mother said: “This is not a black and white thing, this is a right and wrong thing.” Media headlines quickly honed in on that soundbite.
Danroy Henry’s parents made a similar statement in October 2010 when their college student son was killed outside of a club by Westchester County police. I understand why both the Henrys and now the Martins want the justice of their sons to appeal across racial boundaries, as it should. They know, like most people who live in this country without the privilege of never having to think about race, that the quickest way to receive a push back against your cause is to make it about race. If those parents had said, “Trayvon was killed because he was black, and the criminal justice system that hasn’t prosecuted my son’s murderer is an example of systematic racism,” some delusional Americans would have cried out, “They are playing the race card. Why does race always have to be brought up?” Sadly, it would also prevent people from caring or getting involved. So I get it.
But Trayvon’s case is about race. He was killed for being black. He was deemed “suspicious” because he was black. Zimmerman said, “They always get away,” the they implying blacks. He followed Martin (after the 911 dispatcher specifically told him not to) because he was black. Trayvon was killed for being black. Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested because the victim is black, and because he is not. The Sanford Police Department have tampered with witness testimonies because the victim is black and the murderer is not. Also they are too incompetent to handle a case of this magnitude with their sketchy history of other incidents revolving race. The police immediately believed Zimmerman’s claim of “self-defense” because the victim is black and he is not. This has everything to do with race. The media’s reshaping of Zimmerman being Hispanic (as if that matters) and honing in on the mother’s soundbite about it not being about race is a way to shift the focus. It serves to ease the guilt of Americans of the racist system they remain silent on far too often. Until we can have honest conversations about race and racism in America we will not progress.
At one point when we were marching back from 42nd Street to Union Sq. (14th St.) I saw an older black woman to my left near the brick wall of a building. She watched and waited as we all walked by chanting and holding signs. I teared up as I saw the pride in her beaming eyes. I imagined she knew a lot about marching, standing up for basic human rights. Then I thought of all my ancestors. The abolitionists, the everyday people during the Civil Rights Movement, the revolutionaries of the Black Panther Party. I thought about how tired they must’ve been fighting. I envisioned the photographs I’ve seen of hoses being let loose on children, women and men. And the photos of police dogs attacking blacks in the streets for peacefully protesting. I again thought of how tired the ancestors must have been. But they kept fighting. They kept fighting not so much for their own benefit, but so that future generations could live in a world where blacks were seen as human, as equals.
As tired as I get from writing, protesting, signing petitions, marching, writing local and state officials, I must keep fighting. We all must keep fighting.
His name is Trayvon Martin.