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I Want to Write About Trayvon

July 16, 2013

I want to write about what happened to Trayvon Martin and what didn’t happen to George Zimmerman. I want to write a thoughtful analysis on how bigger issues are at the core of outrage, how black life is still undervalued, and how that plays into the violence we see among youth and gangs. I want to write.

But I can’t.

I’m stuck. Emotionally. I’m stuck vacillating between anger at a justice system that failed, sadness for my young black nephews, hope for creating something positive out of the situation, and despondency at all of it.

I keep having emotional overload. The great tool of procrastination, Facebook, is so inundated with posts about the situation that I feel bombarded. Twitter isn’t much better. I tried to refrain from adding to the chorus, but I could not. I have posted and shared numerous articles, links, and other posts about the situation.

There are so many questions. Not only my own questions, but questions from my white friends about the situation. Like a sensitive tooth touching ice cream, anger shoots up. I have learned (been trained?) to quell the black rage that bubbles inside of me like the magma  beneath a volcano. I tell myself that uncontrolled outward anger is not productive. More questions come. Questions from young black males on what value their life really has in society. Questions from my nephews who don’t understand how it’s seemingly okay to kill someone a few years older than them. One asked if George Zimmerman was going to hunt him and his brothers too. Another nephew won’t release his feelings because he doesn’t want to express “hateful words”. So despite my efforts to talk with him, he imprisons his nascent black rage within him, unable to set it free.

Stuck.

Maybe I will still write the article. My friend Petra Lewis has done a fine job expressing some of what I want to say. Writing about one’s feelings means processing them. Processing them means acknowledging them. Acknowledging them means they’re real.

My rage is real. My sadness is real. And yet it almost seems inconsequential. I can’t bring Trayvon back. I can’t put Zimmerman in jail. At some point all of these protesters will go home. But the rage will be there. The sadness will be there. The nihilism will be there. A kid will pick up a gun, and shoot another kid. There will be no rallies in Union Square. No mass shut down of traffic. Nothing.

And the band will play on.

From → Commentary

10 Comments
  1. grace permalink

    Hey Talib –

    You know that I dig you and have the highest respect for you and your passion for making your community safer and more promising. I know that you’re very busy but maybe you could help me better understand this situation from your perspective – I’ve been unable to grasp this now widely held view that race played a critical factor in the Martin/Zimmerman case.

    I’ve watched this trial unfold on TV, and I’ve read the articles you’ve posted so am familiar with them – from what I’ve seen this entire case essentially comes down to one glaring problem – nobody knows who threw the first punch that night.

    This physical assault would have been the first crime committed that night, and if you could pin it on one person it would exonnerate the other one. Some people would say Zimmerman shouldn’t have been following Trayvon, but following somebody isn’t a crime, even if a 911 dispatcher tells you not to. The first actual crime (i.e. something that you could charge for) would be that initial physical assault.

    In other words, if Zimmerman punched Trayvon first, then he is guilty of instigating the fight and of the entire murder. If however Trayvon punched Zimmerman first, then Trayvon would be guilty of instigating a fight which escalated to the point where Zimmerman may have felt the need to defend himself.

    In situations where there are huge “unknown” factors like this, the law always favors the defendant. The intention behind 1000 years of common law is to keep innocent people out of jail – it’s better to let 10 guilty men go free than to put 1 innocent man in jail (as the saying goes, obviously our system isn’t perfect).

    It doesn’t matter if both of them had white, black, or purple skin. It doesn’t matter if Trayvon had text messages showing a penchant for fighting, or that Zimmerman had a restraining order against him from a former girlfriend. All that is fluff. You could put any two people, of any race, in their respective places that night and, without evidence of who started the actual physical altercation, the defendant would not be found guilty of murder, especially if he’s the only one who called 911, the only one with visible punch injuries and the only one with a witness to corroborate that he was on the bottom.

    You might say Zimmerman is a racist for profiling and following Trayvon, and you might be 100% correct. You could also say that he profiled Trayvon because of recent robberies in the neighborhood and cuz Trayvon was darting between houses, and that might be true as well. Zimmerman may have felt emboldened by the gun and went to bully a poor black kid. Trayvon may have sized up the wimpy Zimmerman pretending to be something he’s not and decided to teach him a lesson for following him for no good reason. The big problem here is – we don’t know.

    I think it’s obvious to anyone who pays attention that black folk are exploited by the military industrial complex. Stop and frisk is a violation of our natural and Constitutional rights, and there should be more done to address that (i.e. maybe if more people carried phone cameras, they could film situations like this and make others aware that illegal searches are regularly occuring – I know this is helping to get the word out about illegal DHS checkpoints in the American southwest for example).

    There are many cases where race certainly comes into play and the black guy loses, and yet the black community doesn’t galvanize over those. That’s why I don’t understand why blacks would use THIS case as a poster-child for black inequality. I certainly empathize with both families involved in this tragedy, it’s a terrible situation all around but because of the unknown factors involved, in my opinion it’s not going to convince alot of non-blacks that this case exemplifies black America’s injustice.

    You’ve got the media on both sides egging this story on and pushing fluff. Do you think the heads of FOX or MSNBC actually care about whether Zimmerman is a racist or not? All they care about is how much money they are making over hyping this unfortunate story. They hype every story they present. In addition the power structure in this country wants us citizens divided and fighting amongst ourselves because it makes us more dependent on them while also serving to distract us from their corruption.

    You know what the coverage of this case has done – it has divided us further. It reinforces blacks with the idea that they will never be treated fairly in the eyes of the law, and it reinforces with whites that blacks are over-reactionary and over-emotional when it comes to race. It makes racists on both sides.

    Anyway this is how I see the situation, I’m curious what you think (if you even see this). The other thing I want to say is don’t lose hope, there’s alot of good people out there of all races and the media thrives on tragedy and spreading negativity. As Gandhi once said – You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

    • Hey Grace. Thanks for taking the time to ask a thoughtful question. Let me give a short answer to what I think is a logistical question. According to my understanding, the reason this case has become the poster child is because Trayvon’s parents specifically asked civil rights organizations such as the National Action Network to get involved and they helped bring the story to the national media. There are lots of other cases that are discussed about and protested but they don’t make the national news. Not everyone wants national attention. Trayvon’s parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, allowed their son’s death to come into the national consciousness and are continuing the fight. That’s the short answer to the question “why this case”?

      For many people, including myself, Trayvon’s death is not just about Trayvon – it’s about Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, etc. It’s about the idea that young black men are existential threats and being killed for it, and this has been going on for most of our country’s history.

      And this brings us to the Zimmerman case. If someone looks at the Zimmerman case from a strict legal standpoint according to the laws on the books then it could be confusing as to why people are upset. However nothing happens in a vacuum, including this case. George Zimmerman viewing Trayvon as a probable criminal did not happen in a vacuum of George Zimmerman’s mind, it happened in the context of our society that sees young black men as dangerous existential threats, and devalues the life of young black men. What exactly caused Zimmerman to view Trayvon as a threat? He walking down the street minding his own business. He wasn’t darting between houses. He was talking on the phone coming back from the store. Simple stuff. For many blacks, including myself, there is no difference between George Zimmmerman viewing Trayvon as a probable criminal and the NYPD viewing hundreds of thousands of young black men as probable criminals. What is hard to understand is, even if Trayvon threw the first punch, why does he not have a right to defend himself from a creepy person who was following him in a car and presumably approached him on foot?

      The case has become extremely personal for black men in particular, including myself, because every day we focus on not coming across as a threat. Ever since I was a kid I have been intentional about how I dress, the way I walk, the way I speak, even how much bass I put in my voice in order to appear less of a threat to the majority population. In fact, in a previous job that I had an older successful black colleague tell me that in my approach I was being perceived as too threatening. He advised me on how to come across as less threatening – specifically to whites. After taking his advice I had greater success. But that is incredibly tiring, degrading, dehumanizing, and unfair. It’s what black men have had to do since the country’s founding. It used to be that if a black man was perceived as “uppity” or a threat he would be killed. When we see Trayvon killed, Oscar Grant killed, Amadou Diallo killed, and countless other stories that don’t make headlines but are in the murmurings and side conversations of every day life, it sparks something. The thing is, the outrage that you see now is ever present. It’s always there. I know for me, it’s there. The trick is keeping it contained every day to move about your everyday life. No one wants to be perceived as overly emotional or overly reactionary or even “crazy,” so we hold it in. But holding it in leads to other issues: high blood pressure, drug abuse, nihilism that leads to triggers being pulled on street corners. For us, all of this is connected.

      So it’s not just about single murder case in the state of Florida. It’s about being able to walk down the street with dignity without living in fear – a REAL fear, not a perceived fear based on racist stereotypes. My mother has feared for my life because of this. One time when I was a kid we were out near her job, and she asked me to run back to her office to get purse. So I ran, quite literally. And when I returned my mother was incredibly fearful, realizing that as a young black teen someone might think that I had stolen the purse and something might happen to me. I was safe, and at the time I didn’t understand my mother’s fear. But when Trayvon’s death happens it triggers that fear.

      The case also fits into a larger context about the lack of accountability. Generations upon generations of blacks have caught the short end of the stick of the legal system. And my understanding is that it’s empirically proven that if a black person is accused of killing a white person, they’re more likely to go to jail than a white person kills a black person. George Zimmerman, who is phenotypically white, shot and killed an unarmed child, and yet Trayvon was seemingly on trial.

      I disagree with you on some of your last points. This case isn’t about the media. It isn’t about FOX or MSNBC. They’re playing catch up. If you listen to black radio, if you read black newspapers, you’ll see there are lots of cases that are covered way before it reaches the mainstream media.

      This case isn’t about dividing the races. This isn’t a battle between two sides in which power is equal. It’s not like we have a history of black supremacy in this country, we have a history of white supremacy. When this case eventually leaves the news, it will leave the consciousness of most white Americans. But it will not leave the consciousness of most black Americans. The context surrounding the case won’t leave the consciousness or the every day reality most black Americans.

      Of course, the U.S. is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic country, but our society still hinges on black/white axis, which is a symptom of the white supremacy that pervades our society. So even as non-blacks immigrate into the country there is a spectrum on which a group or person moves up the racial spectrum toward “white” or down the racial spectrum toward “black”. This is most clearly seen in the Irish immigrant experience. This particular point is grounds for another discussion (and there is plenty of academic literature on this).

      One thing that really bothers me is when non-blacks, and whites in particular, dismiss blacks as over-reactionary or over-emotional. It’s like you’re in relationship with someone and you tell them “you’re hurting me” and they disregard what you say. They call you crazy, emotional, irrational. They assume that their perception is the only correct perception. And so you get more incensed, more angry. Every day isn’t rocky. Most days are fine. But sometimes there’s an incident that sets you off, that causes you to bring up why this relationship isn’t working. Maybe it’s the dishes weren’t done or a bill wasn’t paid. And the other person doesn’t understand why you’re upset about the dishes. It’s not about the dishes! It’s about everything that led up to the dishes. It’s about how when you tried to calmly talk to them about relationship they called you crazy for even bringing issues to the forefront. They didn’t want to listen to you when you were calm, so now they have to deal with you when you’re upset. But if you get too upset, they quickly remind you who has the power in the relationship, and so eventually you calm back down.

      Whether or not I have hope is not rooted so much in mainstream media coverage as it is between interpersonal interactions I have. The hope I draw from this situation is from the many non-blacks who agree that this is an injustice. It’s not just blacks out there protesting. That gives me hope. When non-blacks stop and say “wait, maybe they’re not crazy. We should listen.” That gives me hope.

      Thank you for your question and your encouragement.

      Peace

      Talib

  2. grace permalink

    Hey Talib –

    BTW a few hours after writing you yesterday, I actually learned of a case nearly identical to the Martin/Zimmerman case except where the races were reversed, and the verdict was exactly the same.

    In 2009 Roderick Scott (black man around 30) was walking down the street and he saw 2 white kids breaking into his neighbor’s car. Roderick pulled out his gun and tried to do a citizen’s arrest (similar to Zimmerman), one of the white kids (17 year old Chris Cervini) started running towards him so Roderick shot him twice, killing him.

    In the court case Roderick pleaded self defense and because of the unknown factors involved he got off. Unlike Zimmerman he had no punch wounds, and he shot the white kid twice (not once)… so he had even less evidence to support his side of the story than Zimmerman did and he still got off..

    Anyway here’s a link to it: http://rochester.ynn.com/content/top_stories/490556/roderick-scott-claims-self-defense-in-teen-s-shooting/

  3. grace permalink

    Oops sorry here’s a better link: http://themartialist.net/?p=306 – it happened in Rochester NY and Roderick is 42 not 30… still same basic case..

  4. Grace, these cases are not identical. Roderick caught the teens in the act of committing a crime. Trayvon was not committing any crime. That is part of the outrage of the situation. Because Trayvon was perceived to be a criminal the accepted assumption is that he was a criminal. The cases might be identical if Roderick saw the kids outside walking around, called 911, then went out side to confront them with a loaded gun.

    Honestly, that you compare Trayvon – who was completely innocent of any crime when Zimmerman profiled him – with teenagers that were actually committing a crime is insulting. The implicit message that I receive is that if someone THINKS I might be committing a crime they are justified in confronting and possibly killing me even if I wasn’t committing any crime at all.

    Furthermore, this is just one case. When it you look at the aggregate justice is anything but blind. As I just said in my previous comment, the outrage isn’t about this one case.

  5. Maisha permalink

    Thank for your thoughts on this case Talib. As a black man living in America your feelings are vaild and real. As a black man in America only YOU can fully understand what it means to be seen as a threat and a target. Please continue to write about this and other issues affecting the African-American community, and the United States at large. It is clear that many still need to be educated and enlightened on what it truly means to be in your position. Much love & peace to you.

  6. To anyone who wishes to comment: Thank you for reading and desiring to participate in the conversation. I welcome different points of view however my blog is a place for respectful, thoughtful discourse. Disrespectful comments will not be approved.

  7. grace permalink

    Hey Talib – Thanks very much for writing back – I apologize if I was insulting – it was not intentional, all that I meant by “nearly identical” was that in both cases the unknown factors led to the defendant’s acquittal, regardless of their respective skin color. Race isn’t something I really encounter in my daily life so my understanding of how it plays a role in our society is beyond cursory. Again I apologize as the intention was not to insult, but rather to learn more about how you view these things.

    Our perspectives and backgrounds are very different and as an outsider looking in I don’t think I could understand yours fully without having actually lived through it. But what you’re saying here does help me understand your outrage at this whole situation and I think it’s something alot of us whites don’t really understand, not just because of our background but because we just aren’t faced with these things regularly – you were originally unsure of what to write about and I think this is the best thing you could have written. I’m really sorry however that I don’t have a better answer for you at this time.. this is a very complicated societal problem and a very long time in the making.

    I do think though that the media has a strong influence atleast when it comes to how whites percieve blacks to be a “threat”.. I know for instance that some white buisiness owners are very hesitant to hire blacks because they see them as either gangstas and thugs or a potential race lawsuit waiting to happen… Why? Because that’s what they see when they turn on their television or radio. It didn’t always used to be this way, as a child I loved Soul Train and Breakin’ and things just seemed more positive back then. Individuality was celebrated back then, whereas nowadays it’s all about conformity.

    Anyways I want to thank you again sincerely for your depthful response and for helping me to better understand this entire situation. I’ll do what I can to spread the word.

  8. Thank you Grace. What you just said has a greater impact than you might realize. This right here gives me hope.

  9. Grace – I’m not sure if you just saw the president’s remarks, but he spoke to the context that I was talking about.

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