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Up To No Good

I have something to say about the murder of Trayvon Martin. The problem is that not enough people are saying it, but I have to say something. The facts, as I continue to collect them, are that he was a 17-year-old boy who walked to the store for some candy and on his way home a grown man pursued him and called police to say that he was “up to no good.” When the police told George Zimmerman, the murderer, not to engage with the boy because they had sent police on their way he didn’t take their advice and got out of his vehicle and scuffled with Trayvon that ended with George shooting Trayvon in the chest.

George has not been arrested for this.

The facts that haunt me as a mother are that children are not safe from overzealous adults who confront them when they’re supposedly guilty of something. From the reports about George Zimmerman I’ve learned that he sent e-mails to people in the gated community often detailing blacks who looked suspicious. How is it that a 200-pound man can go after a child after being told not to and end up shooting him in “self defense”? None of that makes sense.

The facts that haunt me as an educator are that at the time of his murder Trayvon was home on a 5-day suspension for being tardy too much. From what I know about being a school administrator I know that this also makes no sense. Students should be in school, and we spend far too much time kicking them out for lesser offenses like being late to class. He’s not on time to school or class and the punishment for that is NOT to allow him to come to school? I see that happen far too often in schools across this nation. Stealing education from children as their punishment for not showing up on time is absurd at best.

The facts that haunt me as a black woman are that Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was asked what Trayvon was like at a press conference. Teary-eyed and stunned, she tried answering questions about her son and what he liked and a journalist asked whether or not he liked chicken. Chicken. Sybrina’s son was gunned down in a gated community in Florida and the killer was walking free on the streets and someone in the news brought up the stereotype of chicken. I watched that video yesterday and when I went back to see it again it was removed. I don’t know if I’m grateful for that or not. The mother of a murdered son can’t remove that from her working memory. Or, maybe she can because she is devastated by the murder of her child.

It’s like this tragic story of Trayvon’s killing is riddled with every possible stereotype there is in a racially motivated murder.

The facts that haunt me as an American are the constant conventional images of young black youth in this country which are uttered in the 911 phone call that George made to report Trayvon as a black boy who is “up to no good”. I’ve listened to the tapes only twice because I can’t bear to hear it again and George Zimmerman described Trayvon as “on drugs or something” and said that “he’s got his hand in his waistband” and also said that “something’s wrong with him.” When I’ve listened to educators and parents discuss dress code in schools the most prevalent complaint is that teens are wearing saggy pants. Now, I’m not saying this is a good look or that I like it. But it is used to target a group and there are far more dress code violations of black boys in saggy pants than anything I’ve ever seen. That’s not the real issue, and it has nothing to do with Trayvon Martin, but people seem to cling to that image and get desperately offended by it to the point of using it to vehemently oppose it. George Zimmerman makes an awful lot of conclusions about Trayvon in his call to police and it’s more than dubious of him to do so.

The facts that haunt me as a human are that a really good son was taken from his family. According to his mother Trayvon was a happy child who loved to play sports and wanted to fly planes. I know him. I mean, I’ve met plenty of Trayvons in my life. He loved math and wanted to be an engineer and loved to work with his hands. Those students are in my life every day that I work in a school. His English teacher said that he loved drawing and building things and was creative. I know this kid. Trayvon was a normal teenage boy like my own sons and my nephews and the male students in my school.

I wish such peace to his family and pray for justice for him because Trayvon suffered a normal American racist death. One that we have seen over and over again for which equity and retribution aren’t nearly as important as it is for their white counterparts. Yusuf Hawkins, Willie Turks, Michael Griffith and Emmett Till all come to mind.

All of them were normal American teenagers who were targeted and described as something similar as Trayvon: up to no good. All of them were sons who had talents and brought joy to their parents. All these boys were normal kids who had interests and talents not very different from anyone else. All of them remind me to hug my sons and warn my nephews not to be in the wrong place.

All of these facts that utterly paralyze me as a mother, an educator, an American, a woman. Except that I’m working to change that crippling feeling by bringing attention to it. Help spread the word, would you? It’s just not getting enough attention. Getting justice for his family is truly the only good that can come of this tragedy.

 

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