You see him approach. You become uneasy. You wonder if he has a gun or a knife or will he simply hit you upside the head with his fist and snatch your purse or wallet. You take stock of how much cash you have, whether your credit card company reimburses for fraudulent charges. As he approaches, you clutch your bag closer to your person. You look around for anyone near enough to notice when he accosts you, maybe call the police for you. You realize you don’t expect anyone to actually physically help you, though (the people on hidden camera on TV never help). You think about crossing the street, but that’s so obvious. You are not racist, you see. You are aware. Just aware.
He is black. His clothes are baggy. He has a menacing look. Why is he walking here this time of day? Where is he coming from and where is he going? Why does he keep looking around? Wait. You’re on this street this time of day (but you’re an upstanding citizen. That should be clear). And you keep looking around (but you’re trying to make eye contact with someone willing to help you when this black boy tries to rob you because of course he will try to rob you. What the hell, he just walked past you. He didn’t even bump you. Odd. Hey, you! Come back. Don’t you want to rob me?).
I can describe this scene so easily because I’ve been there. I’ve seen that boy or group of boys and been afraid. I’ve judged them before they were even near enough for me to see that their pants aren’t sagging, that they are in school uniforms, and that their boisterous speech is simply them enjoying themselves. Is this what happened with Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman? Did Mr. Zimmerman fall victim to the same He is black. His clothes are baggy. He has a menacing look mode of thinking?
I’ve been trying for a week now to figure out where I am on this. Trayvon Martin. Say his name. Aloud. His mother should be able to say his name aloud and have him answer. She should not be mourning a 17-year-old son whose life has been senselessly lost. A son, a brother, a boyfriend, a friend, a student. I am angry for her. I am sad. I am confused. And yet, part of me wants to offer benefit of the doubt to his alleged murderer. I want to afford Mr. Zimmerman the benefit of being frightened for his community, frightened for their safety, their belongings that not long before the shooting, had been threatened by a home invasion. I want to believe that he felt concerned enough to be compelled to act. Compelled to defy the police. Can’t let him get away. They always get away. Not this time.
And yet. As hard as I want to give in to my need to be fair and balanced, I can’t. Why didn’t he let the police do their job? It’s kinda his job too, as a volunteer neighborhood watchman. I understand that gung-ho, I’m going to save us all feeling. But why put himself in danger when surely the police would be there soon. At first, I said this case has nothing to do with race, stop dragging race into everything. There we go again; black people always have to cry about racism. But then it was so outrageously clear that even I had to face it: Mr. Zimmerman would not have felt so threatened were Trayvon not black. And he wouldn’t have approached him, I believe, if he weren’t carrying that gun. Would he have followed a similarly dressed Hispanic or White male? I want to believe that Mr. Zimmerman thought he was protecting his community rather than being a man whose finger had been waiting to rest on the trigger.
What happened? What really happened? Did he think he could scare him with the gun? Did he think the bottle in Trayvon’s jacket was a gun? I got a gun, you got a gun, all God’s children got guns. Why didn’t he just ask where he was going? Why would Trayvon have to answer, though; Zimmerman isn’t a policeman. Why didn’t he just say who he was, what he wanted? Maybe he did, but why would Trayvon have to respond, though; he was under no obligation to answer questions. He was visiting his father. He belonged there just as much as Zimmerman. The stand your ground law applied to them both, did it not?
There is a man demanding answers because you are black. There is a boy tired of being questioned because he is black.
I can’t say that Mr. Zimmerman didn’t feel threatened after he purposely defied police and pursued Trayvon. This is the state of Florida’s reason for not arresting him: he had a right to be there and at some point perhaps he felt his safety was truly in danger. From a skinny 17 year old boy. There are so many what ifs. Too bad there’s only one person’s version being told.
As a mother, I find myself thinking about Trayvon’s parents. How close they must have felt to having been able to say We Did It. We Made It. We Got Him Through.
I have no answers. I have so many questions. I am disgusted. I want to do something. I want an explanation, no more hypothesizing. I want Mr. Zimmerman to say what happened. Whether he shot Trayvon accidentally by thinking he could scare him with his gun or whether he killed him because he could, when he sees Trayvon’s parents’ faces, something inside of Mr. Zimmerman should say I owe them this.
He is suspicious looking. Because he is black. He is dead. Because he is black.