"It's not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."
- Audrey Lorde
Last Wednesday I attended the march for Trayvon Martin at Union Square in New York City. I was commuting from Brooklyn and didn't make it till well after it had already began. Even still, there were a few hundred people in the park with signs, letters, and faces of concern at what happened nearly a month ago. The case of Trayvon Martin is troubling at best, and as a black man, downright frighting at its worst.
Though there are different variations and interpretations going around, here's what we know so far.
- On the night of February 26, Trayvon Martin is leaving the The Retreat at Twin Lakes development when he is pursued by George Zimmeran
- Zimmerman follows Trayvon in his car despite being told by a 911 operator, "We don't need you to do that."
- All the while, Trayvon is on the phone with his girlfriend who tells him to run.
- A struggle ensues between Zimmerman and Trayvon, and Trayvon is shot dead.
- Zimmerman was armed with a 9 millimeter handgun. Trayvon? A bag of Skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea.
Multiple reports have Zimmerman describing this guy as suspicious and out of place in the neighborhood. According to Zimmerman's own words, he believes Trayvon is possibly on drugs at the time. As it turns out, Zimmerman probably should have been the one tested for drugs in light of his alleged reckless behavior.
What this most recent case of violence against another unarmed black man dictates is that black males are still subject to the criminal element stereotype. His jeans are too baggy. He's looking at me suspiciously. What's he got hiding in his waistband? It's as if after all these years, there's still this "boogeyman" element that too many black men have to contend with regardless of whether we fit the description or not.
In 1994, Time magazine infamously darkened O.J. Simpsons photo in attempt to make him appear more menacing. Time of course denied this, but folded to public pressure and issued a new cover. Here's the original Time cover compared to Newsweek's version.
Regardless of whether or not you think O.J. was guilty, I can't recall any white suspects having their photo altered in such a way to make them appear more threatening and evil. Images hold power. And the darkened photo of an accused black man certainly has the intended effect of making the accused appear more sinister.
The idea of black men being deemed "suspicious" or perceived as some "boogeyman" continues to play out despite a stream of statements from police, law officials, and those within local government, to the contrary. It's always, "we'll do better." "This won't happen again." "This should have never have happened." So how many incidents like these have to keep happening before black men and people of color are no longer deemed "suspicious" because of their skin tone or article of clothing? Trayvon Martin is just another mark on the wall of a long list of black men who did nothing wrong, but either ended up dead or severely injured by the very people who were supposed to protect them.
|Abner Louima, 1997|
|Amadou Diallo, 1999|
|Sean Bell, 2006|
|Oscar Grant, 2009|
As you can see through the series of photographs, Trayvon Martin's story is neither a new one, nor sadly, is his death. Many black men will have some form of interaction with the police in their lifetime. Whether it's driving a car that is a little too nice, or living in a home that couldn't possibly be yours, it's clear that black men still have to prove themselves as legit even when it comes to their own possessions.
This reminds me of my own interaction with the police. In 2010 I was pulled over by an unmarked cop car while riding a bike (yes, not a car, but a bike). According to the officers, I was riding "awfully quickly through an area with known drug activity." I showed them my I.D. and they got back in their unmarked car and smiled at me. This is the BS that black men have to sometimes go through with law enforcement.
It is because of all this that I felt moved to be at Union Square last week. Seeing people of many races and backgrounds showed at least that Trayvon Martin's murder and subsequent investigation will not go quietly into the night. People protested. They sang. They marched. That night I spoke with a white woman from Colorado who said she was so moved by this case and sense of injustice, that she just had to be there.
Hopefully, justice will come for Trayvon. But more importantly, hopefully in this land where a black man is the current Head of State, there will come a time when brandishing a hoodie and pack of Skittles, no longer deems you "suspicious." Hopefully, that teen on the corner is no longer viewed as a potential "boogeyman," but as a young man on his way home with a hoodie on his head and without any fear in his heart.