I woke up this morning with my mind focused, and staying, on these two haunting words: “Not Guilty!” After a long three weeks of listening to the proceedings of what has been called the “George Zimmerman Trial,” I cannot know peace.
Probably like you, all types of thoughts and a full range of emotions ran through me when the verdict was read.
I have joined with so many others in the continuous “debate” about this matter – and it still is ongoing: the post legal analysis; opinion-shapers of every stripe chiming in; the Justice Department weighing the merits of a civil action; the steady and unceasing tweets, Facebook comments and radio commentaries from John Q. Citizen, etc.
Through it all, I have an image of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, whose section in his family’s album is unnaturally frozen in time.
Trayvon was just at the beginning of his journey and experimentation with life, never to become a man in full, one who would have survived all the warnings, one who had heeded the advice of the elders; one who had lived to tell his own story of survival as a black male in these parts.
Who reading this can remember the times of their youth when some of their choices could have led to death?
I often reflect back on the days when my sons were growing up, and growing away from my protective arms when I had to let them out into the world. I prayed them home every day, that they get to and from school safely, that their after-school activities would be completed without incident, that their trips to the mall would not end in any harassment and/or arrest because they insisted on hanging with at least two or three of their friends: Riding around in cars was an especially soul-trying ordeal.
I have since learned from them that they did, indeed, experience several episodes of racial profiling and police harassment and were often at the receiving end of scorn and fearful reactions from white women.
Then there were the other spirit-breaking incidents that they did not share with me until they were adults.
They told me they didn’t want me to know because they thought I would “over-react.” They had grown accustomed to being treated like our society’s living nightmares: young black males.
I understand that it is part of the black male DNA code to be leery of being isolated and alone. I also understand that it is part of the code of survival as a black teen male to wear a uniform, a type of tribal marking, perhaps, like a certain cap, type of sneakers, or hoodie, etc., I suppose as much to protect as to protest.
“Mothers, fathers, teach your children.”
What’s the word today? Certainly not cowardice! Certainly not to hold their hats in their hands, heads bowed! And most certainly to not go on suicide missions, showing bravado unto death!
But what is it that we teach them now?
I’m no longer in the parenting business – my children have children – yet, as a responsible citizen of this country, in this world, I have a need to know what’s out there to build better fences of truth and justice around my children, your children, all our children.
There has got to be some new material being developed that will provide more foolproof protection than what we now have. The admonition to “know your history” worked for a time. Once travelling in groups was a good defense. Then phones were great defensive weapons: “Call me when you arrive safely” or “Call me when you’re leaving so I can time you.”
A warning or two about pulling up pants, tying shoes and groomed hair helped some; at least I felt relieved about it.
But in-between moments would come when the children, our precious boys, in particular, would slip away and be off on their own, without a defense against sure violation, unto death.
The entire country, including the president of the United States, has weighed in on this matter of the George Zimmerman trial, aka the killing of Trayvon Martin, and, yet, I feel as if I’m on another merry-go-round, moving, spinning but going nowhere safe or sound.
The marchers are on the scene, a necessary and cathartic response that helps heal many. The shouters, pouters and other forms of protestors have taken their seats before the microphones and are wound up for their automatic reactions. Legal minds and moral theorists have positioned themselves before their respective audiences and congregations for the regularly scheduled meetings.
And a new generation of parents is once again pondering: What do we teach our children to keep them safe from harm?
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org