Warning – this post discusses the death of children as a result of racialized violence.
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I’ve struggled to say much about this yet because it’s just so heartbreaking and terrifying.
Here’s the short version – Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old boy, went out to get skittles for his little brother and ended up shot at point blank range and killed 70 feet from his dad’s home, because a neighborhood watch captain thought he looked “suspicious” (“because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking slowly in the rain”) and decided to go after him, despite a 911 dispatcher’s instructions that he not engage and remain in his car.
Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, is claiming self defense, despite the fact that he had 10 years and 100 lbs on Trayvon, and despite the fact that Trayvon was unarmed. The local police have accepted this story and declined to arrest him. They have also refused to release the 911 tape to Trayvon’s family. One witness who says she heard Trayvon crying for help just before he was shot says she’s been “blown off” by the Sanford police.
Trayvon was black. George Zimmerman is not.
There’s a Change.org petition to bring Trayvon’s killer to justice. Please, please sign it. Please share Trayvon’s story with your friends and social networks. We need to bring this case to national attention and get this family the justice they deserve.
I don’t really know what to say about this. As a daughter and sister to men who have to live under a constant burden of nebulous “suspicion” just because they’re black, who can be stopped or challenged at any moment by cops or random vigilantes like Zimmmerman just because they’re black, this terrifies me. As a mother, it absolutely wrecks me. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and loss Trayvon’s family is going through.
I need people to try to understand how terrifying it is to be a black parent – or parent to a black child, especially a boy – in this country. It’s dealing with the ever present fear that your child may leave the house for the most innocent or banal reason but never come home. It’s dealing with the fear that if the worst happens to your child, none of the people who are in a position to help or get you justice will care.
I know some folks don’t understand why I post so much about race and racism. This is part of why. This is happening all the time. All over. To kids who’ve done nothing but exist in a society all too ready to see them as potential criminals and justify any kind of brutality and violence against them as a result.
Two years ago in Pittsburgh, Jordan Miles, a 17 year old black honors student on his way to stay with his grandmother – because she didn’t like to spend the night in her house alone – was ambushed and beaten so badly by 3 plainclothes cops that much of his hair was ripped out (he had dreadlocks) and his face was swollen beyond recognition (warning, graphic images). The officers filed a false report and false charges against Jordan. They’ve never been punished for their brutality or their lies – quite the opposite.
And these cases can’t be separated from the police and state violence that’s leveled against black families and communities in the name of “being tough on crime.” This rationale is used to justify raids on black homes by SWAT teams armed to the teeth – the kind of raid that ended with 7 year old Aiyana Jones shot and killed in her own home. A Detroit police special response team threw a flash grenade into Aiyana’s home while she and her grandmother were sleeping. In the ensuing confusion, one of the officers shot Aiyana. Aiyana’s killer has since been indicted on manslaughter charges.
Black communities and other communities of color are disproportionately at the receiving end of such extreme, militarized state force. Police raids or ambushes that repeatedly ended up in the brutalizing or death of white middle class people – least of all children – would never be allowed to continue unaddressed, much less for decades. We’re ok with it because, well, when it comes to black people and communities many people just accept it as the way things are. I’ve seen more outrage over SWAT raids that ended in the death of a dog than over a raid that killed a little black girl. If this happened to your family, to someone you know, wouldn’t you be outraged? So why are we so complacent about death after death of black youth? Where is the outrage? I appreciate very much my non-black friends who speak out about these things, but the sad truth is that the vast majority of anger or resolve to say or do anything about this is from black people alone. That’s inexcusable. These are fellow human beings, many of them just kids.
A month ago 19 year old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed in his bathroom by plain clothes NYPD who had been questioning him on suspicion of dealing pot. They thought he had a gun. So they chased him. He was unarmed. He had a little bit of marijuana on him. They shot him in front of his 6 year old brother and grandmother. All for what? The life of a black teen is worth so little that tracking down a little bit of pot and an unseen potential gun (assumed to exist because he was seen “[reaching] for his waistband” before the police approached him) is enough to justify taking it altogether?
Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Jordan Miles, Aiyana Jones, Ramarley Graham, now Trayvon Martin. Those are just a few of the names we know. How many times does this have to happen to a black man – to a black boy, a child – before we have a real conversation about the continued realities of racism in this country? Before we get real about the fact that we don’t value the lives of black men and boys?