COMMENTARY: In the Wake of Trayvon Martin’s Death, Black Men Are Still Under Fire
Today marks the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death. The unarmed teenager was gunned down by security guard/wannabe cop George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida while walking home from a convenience store.
Although told to stand down by police after reporting Martin as “suspicious” Zimmerman followed the teen and confrontation ensued. He shot Martin in the heart, saying he felt threatened by a slim, good-natured 17-year-old carrying a bag of Skittles. Acquitted on all charges by a Florida jury, to this day Zimmerman has not expressed one ounce of remorse for the tragic killing. So what have we learned in the two years since Trayvon’s tragic death?
We have learned that it’s still open season on black men – young and old – as white men are firing on black men for no apparent reason and then using “Stand Your Ground” laws as their sorry defense. Sadly, in some cases, the “Stand Your Ground” law is working. And we have learned that for some whites, black life – and the lives of black males in particular –means absolutely nothing.
There have been many rallies, vigils, protests and sermons about Trayvon’s death and, no doubt, there will be more. Today, I reflected on a statement by President Barack Obama after he was criticized by some conservatives last year for weighing in on Zimmerman’s acquittal.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” Obama said. “Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
“We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities,” Obama said. “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
It’s no secret that Black Americans have always been distrustful of the nation’s racially skewed judicial system.
“Our kids are still defined by the color of their skin,” Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, told me last year.
I remain concerned for the safety of young black men while, regrettably, watching history repeat itself: First there was 14-year-old Emmitt Till, who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by white men who claimed Till was flirting with a white girl. In 1963 in Mississippi, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was shot to death in his own driveway by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
And now there’s Trayvon Martin and more recently, Jordan Davis, another unarmed teenager who was shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, by Michael Dunn, a white engineer, simply because Jordan’s music was too loud. And let’s not forget Garrick Hopkins, 60, and Carl Hopkins Jr., 61, two brothers from West Virginia who were shot and killed by a white man, Rodney Bruce Black, 62, who thought the Hopkins brothers were trespassing on his land – when in fact, they were inspecting a shed on their own property.
The sad truth is that black men are no strangers to racial profiling.
Almost all of my black male friends have been racially profiled at some point during the lives – and that includes me. So what have we learned on the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death? We have learned that unfortunately, some white men will always see young black men as thugs and will shoot first — and then call a lawyer. And we have learned, I hope, that we must fight collectively to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and in other states across the country to prevent these pointless murders of young black men.
If we sit back and do nothing, shame on us. What do you think?