Tuesday, March 27, 2012
All The Rage
By now much has been said and heard regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin. Add to that the thousands upon thousands of facebook postings and it’s pretty clear that his tragic death has struck a chord with many. But why some may ask? Why the furor and fervor over a single death (as unfortunate as it may be) when as we all know far too many black men die violently in America each and every day?
While I can’t delve into all the issues that surround this incident I did want to help provide at least some insight into why so many feel so strongly about it. To begin with the man (George Zimmerman) who shot Trayvon was not a police officer and though he apparently patrolled this neighborhood on a regular basis he also was not a registered member of the neighborhood watch. He began to follow (in his truck) the teen because in his mind Trayvon was a suspicious character. (we’ll get to that in a bit). According to 911 tapes he called he police to report his activity and was explicitly told to refrain from following Trayvon. Not only did he ignore this but soon afterwards got out of his vehicle, confronted Trayvon and during the confrontation fired the fatal shot into the teens chest.
What has outraged so many is that despite all this Zimmerman was not arrested or apparently even detained for in depth questioning. Nor did it seem that the police department had any intention of so doing. How is it that a police dispatcher could tell him to stop following Trayvon and then after getting a call that a shot had been fired and the boy was now dead not at least tell his parents that they were launching a full investigation?
Why the outrage? I believe there are two main reasons both impacted by the collective history and present experience of most black people in America.
American history is filled with tragedies of black men dying at the hands of white men with impunity. While it certainly doesn’t happen nearly as frequently as it once did, the killing of Trayvon (I can’t say that it was murder yet, since all the pertinent fact aren’t in) brings back all too painful memories for almost every black family in America. Beyond that I must be straightforward and say that there have been so many instances of violence against black men by police that many African-Americans sense that law enforcement is at the least less than enthusiastic when a black person is killed by a white person. Thus when Trayvon was killed and his parents couldn’t seem to get any real answers from the police, their very real grief turned to anger which at first spread through their family and friends and then the wider black community. (Of course this is not to ignore that many, many white were also outraged, I’m just merely trying to explain the core of the outrage expressed by many black based in our historical context) The feeling was ‘here we go again, a black man dies at the hands of a white man who goes scott free and all we’re left with is our grief, pain and anger.
Regarding our present experience once more I must say that all too many blacks (especially black men) have had negative and from our viewpoint unnecessary confrontations with not only the police but other whites because we are black. For example, there was the time from my teens when I along with two other friends were stopped by the police while walking home from a bowling alley. We had chosen that particular venue since it was near my high school and I was familiar with it from intramural bowling. However at that time the neighborhood was almost exclusively Jewish and Italian. So though we weren’t bothering anyone (we had decided to walk home instead of take the bus) the police felt for some reason to pull in front of us, question what we were doing and demand some kind of identification before we were allowed to proceed home. And dear ones this is the type of incident faced by most all African-American men in this country. Now, does this mean that all of my interactions with the police have been negative? No, actually I pleased to say that I’ve had some quite positive interactions with the police and most every white person with whom I come into contact. Yet, with that said I must admit that myself, my son and most all African-American men have had enough negative experiences to prevent us and the wider black community from ruling out completely the reality that race still plays a part in how we’re viewed and treated by some people in America.
In my view, it’s these two factors that sparked the rage and sense of injustice so many feel about this case. Given the historical context and present experience it’s not hard for me to believe that Mr. Zimmerman chose to follow Trayvon because he was a black teenager. Am I absolutely, 100% sure of this? No, I’m not, but as I said previously mine own along with millions of other experiences of black men causes me to arrive at this conclusion. From Mr. Zimmerman’s perspective Trayvon was a suspicious character. And that dear ones is how far, far too many black men still feel and are at times treated in our society. The outrage comes from the belief of the greater African-American community that in too many instances black men are treated with suspicion simply because we are black. In most cases this treatment results in humiliation, a feeling of powerlessness and a real sense that no matter what to some we’ll always be outsiders to be regarded with suspicion and derision. And in a few cases it ends in a tragedy that causes us to immediately think ‘that could have been my son, or nephew, or brother, or father or me.
Finally dear ones as we know these aren’t easy issues to discuss. However, a tragedy like this that has gotten the attention of so many may provide an opportunity for us to witness of the gospel’s power and need in our lives, our communities and our society.
Sincerely in Christ