Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Calling Off the Hunt

Monday, July 15, 2013

The blank “Add New Post” page had been staring at me since early Sunday morning. I knew I needed to write about all the feelings — sadness, despair, frustration, befuddlement, exasperation — that were swirling around my heart, around my head, but I  just didn’t know exactly what to write. At this point, there are more questions than answers, more hands tossed to the skies than put into action. I’m hurt, heartsick, and unsure if sharing all of that even helps.

After the verdict of not guilty of second-degree murder was handed down late Saturday night and George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I watched the press conferences with a pit in my stomach and a trembling around my chest. I felt breathless, wounded, raw, and overwhelmed.

My homey B. texted me right after the verdict was read: “How will you explain this to your son?”

B. doesn’t have children yet, but was asking black parent friends the same question. I took a deep breath before answering, but it didn’t help. I told him what the other likely said: I really don’t know. I don’t quite know how to explain it to myself. 

I mean, I understand how the American judicial system works. I understand this complex trial and how this jury of six women could come to this verdict. I understand the principles of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “burden of proof.” Looking at the evidence presented and the KEY fact that there were only two true witnesses to the events of the night of February 26, 2012 — one was dead, killed by the other — I understand and could explain that, if necessary.

But explaining why this unarmed boy walking home with a pack candy in his pocket was presumed dangerous and up to no good is dead, and presented as a lawless thug at his own murder trial … that I can’t readily explain.

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I feel a sliver of relief, so to speak, around talking about any of this with my son because he’s just 4 years old. To him, that he has curly hair and his white buddy Ryan’s hair is straight is the only difference he notices right now. I have some time before I need to talk to this bright, charming, kind boy about the fact that many — too many — will have firm ideas about who he is without ever once saying “hello.” I have some time before I need to crack open the windows and let that crude, cold air blow into his good and quiet world, making him keenly aware of how others will view him: menacing, dangerous, stupid, angry, wicked, unworthy, invisible. I can tell him about his perceived value as a citizen and part of humanity later. For now, I want to just let him be the curly-haired kid who plans to be a doctor, firefighter, race car driver, garbage man, astronaut, and dad when he grows up.

But the truth is, “later” is closer than I want to believe. Later, when my son gets the double-take in the store, that long side look dripping with suspicion and assumption when he walks fresh into the lives of strangers because he’s too tall (and black), laughing too loud (and black), walking too slow (and black), and simply breathing the same air (and black), sadly that time is just around the corner.

Clearly I wasn’t alone in feeling the heavy foot in the heart around this topic of what do we tell our kids — specifically our black sons — about the Trayvon Martin tragedy (and the profoundly disturbing and sad story of Jordan Davis, another unarmed black youth gunned down, this time because the music in the car he was in at a gas station was deemed too loud. This Rolling Stone mag story about Davis and Florida’s dangerous Stand Your Ground Law left me angry and heartbroken at once, but it’s a must-read.) NPR’s fine race and culture blog Code Switch delved into this heavy topic of talking with our kids over the weekend.

They asked: What did you tell your kids after the Zimmerman verdict? Some of the responses that Code Switch retweeted sounded familiar:

“I can’t even imagine what to say.”

“Been grasping for the right words.”

And there was this one from @WickedNikki71 that felt like a punch to the ribs: “I’ve always told my son he was born a suspect.”

There were more like this too, not linked to Code Switch, where black parents wondered aloud if they should just tell their kids an unvarnished truth: “The deck is permanently stacked against you. Wear a hoodie, wear a suit, it doesn’t matter because they’ve already discounted you.” It makes me incredibly sad that we’re still here, talking this way, demanding to be seen and considered and treated as not three-fifths a person, but full human beings. We need our brown-faced children to not give in, to not believe the hype. They  are worthy. They do belong there. They matter. YOU MATTER. Believe it in your bones.

Lawyer, writer and single mom Carolyn Edgar shared her talk with her son on her blog, adding that it’s not a one-time deal but more an ongoing conversation with her kids “about race, social justice, politics, gender identity, sexual orientation, community, current events, and social issues.”

But more than The Talk that black parents continue to have with their children (and been having for decades), what else? What next? What can we do? This is the question that stumps me. There are petitions, yes, and rallies, I know, but what can I — what can we each do — to call off the hunt on our black children? And for that answer, I don’t know where to look.

1 Comment
  • 1

    I don’t have any answers, but I do appreciate your ability to share this. And I think that what you say here: “We need our brown-faced children to not give in, to not believe the hype. They are worthy. They do belong there. They matter. YOU MATTER. Believe it in your bones” is so important. It’s a basic belief that all children must have, but some children (depending on race, gender, ability, personality…) need to hear it more than others.

    The other side of that is, of course, to teach all of our children that other people matter, too. And treating themselves with respect is most important because it’s the first step in treating others with respect.