Sunday, July 14, 2013

To Trayvon, with Love

Dear Trayvon,
I am so sorry that we let you down on the night you died. I am so sorry that you did not receive justice in our court system.
I signed a petition seventeen months ago when I first heard about your death, your murder, Trayvon. I wrote five posts about you in the weeks after, trying to sort out just how America found itself at this place in our history where people not only carry guns but use them and then get away with murder, and at this place where being a black male is STILL dangerous and often fatal. Then I spent the last five weeks following the trial as if my own life depended on it, and, Trayvon, my life did depend on it.
We got home last night and the first thing I did was turn on the TV and flip through the news channels looking for an update on whether or not the jury had come to a verdict, and within minutes I saw the breaking news banner at the bottom of the screen. Ronald and I held our breaths while the court reassembled, all except for your parents, and I felt their absence keenly though I understood why they were not there. I know I would not have been able to hear those words as your parent.
I could only shake my head as the verdict was announced.
“Five white women,” Ronald said. “I told you they’d acquit.”
I hadn’t wanted to believe that the all female jury would acquit George Zimmerman. I wanted to believe, all along, that George Zimmerman would stand up in court and ask for the lies to stop, as first his mother, then his uncle, then his father testified that the screaming on the 911 call was his voice and not yours. I wanted him to admit that he had made terrible, fatal choices that night based on his own biases and hatred and that those choices will forever echo through history and the universe as a reminder of our inhumanity.
But Ronald thought I was naïve.
I began to cry when he told me there is no hope for black people in America. There is nothing left to do, nowhere to go, he said, because nothing will change. I believe so much of what he says, because he has such wisdom about these things, but I know in this case, Trayvon, it is his survival as a black man in this awful, racist country, in spite of his many brushes with other people’s potentially fatal decisions, in stark contrast to your short-lived life, that has left him full of despair.
“We can’t give up,” I said, sobs choking my words.
And I won’t, Trayvon, because you can’t have died in vain.  For every George Zimmerman out there, let there be three or four or eight or thousands who learn how to see you, and all black boys and men, as the person you are, not just the color of your skin. Let there be ten or a hundred or a thousand or millions who know that you belong and have a right to belong and will fight for your right to belong at the store, in the rain, on the walkway, in the gated community your father lived in, in Sanford, in Florida, in the United States of America. You belonged here. You had a right to be here. George Zimmerman was in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing. He acted like a thug that night, because thugs are people who have ill intent and who carry weapons to hurt and kill others, and it doesn’t matter what their skin color is or what clothes they wear, because that isn’t what makes them thugs.
We failed you, Trayvon. Not because your parents didn’t talk to you the way my husband Ronald talked to our daughters, just as his father talked to him and his siblings, and his grandfather talked to his father.
“You can’t do what they do,” Ronald told our daughters. And I know your parents told you that, too, because they were good and loving parents and they wanted to keep you safe from a country that hates you because of the color of your skin.
We failed you, because we allowed the rising tide of racism to crash over our country unabated. We failed you, because we let gun legislation through that supports irresponsible gun ownership. We failed you, because we sat on the laurels of the Civil Rights Movement and grew complacent. We failed you, because George Zimmermans exist everywhere in this country and will continue to profile black boys like you and shoot to kill them.
But we won’t fail your memory, Trayvon. You will be remembered, as the Martin family lawyer, Benjamin Trump, said last night, and “forever remain in the annals of history next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all.”
Know, Trayvon, that there are white people who get it. Not all of them, not even half of them, probably not even a third of them, but there are white people, like me, who understand what it is to be black in America because we have been fortunate or unfortunate enough to experience what you experienced as, in my case, a wife and mother and daughter-in-law and sister-in-law and aunt and friend.
I, for one, will pledge to fight on your behalf.
I just signed a petition for the federal government to re-open their suspended investigation. I wrote the following comment:
This is a socially important case. It cannot be the precedent that it is okay to shoot and kill black boys because they are perceived through the lens of racism. Trayvon Martin did nothing different than millions of other boys his age do every day -- he went out to buy a snack and was talking on his cell phone as he walked back home. He had a right to be there. George Zimmerman had no right to profile him from a distance, pursue him, not identify himself [to Trayvon], and then shoot Trayvon at point blank range in the heart. Please investigate this fatal act that denied Trayvon his fundamental civil rights and his life.
Know that men like my husband, though crushed by the disrespect and humiliation they have endured in their lifetimes as they trail-blazed the way toward equality, will continue their fight for justice, even at their personal peril.  They will push through their depression and weariness because they don’t want you to live the life they did. They want it to be better, like when my father-in-law moved from Sanford, FL (where relatives still live) up north so his children would not grow up under Jim Crow laws.
And white people like me will be at their sides, just like whites marched beside Martin Luther King, Jr.  We know it is wrong. We believe you when you tell us how it is for you as a black boy living in a racist country. We’ve even experienced it vicariously, like when the Southern white man stood in our garage when we had a neighborhood yard sale a few weeks back and told us how all blacks live off the government. He said that standing in the garage of our newly constructed home, looking directly at our Infiniti G37S parked in the garage along with Ronald’s motorcycle, and our CRV and our daughter’s Mazda 3 parked at the curb so our driveway would fit the lawn tractor, refrigerator, and chandelier we were selling. I guess they were all bought with food stamps, Trayvon, because, according to him and many other white people, all black people are on the dole and too lazy to work. I slipped into the house, and Ronald told the white man, “You have to go now.”
I wish someone had been there the night George Zimmerman decided you didn’t belong in his neighborhood, even though it was obviously multi-cultural and multi-racial. I wish just one person had stepped out of his or her house and said to Zimmerman, “You have to go now. Let this boy return safely home. He belongs here.”
Trayvon, we will continue the fight for the right of all Americans to belong, to be equal under the law, and to be judged by one’s character and not a physical feature or clothing. We cannot rip racism from a person’s brain, but we can fight the good fight and remove the racism from our institutions and our systems and our laws. One day, people like George Zimmerman will be just a memory, but unlike your memory, we will not remember his name but only his deed that reminded us how far we had to go.

With love and hope,

Trayvon, for your parents and your brother and for all of us who love you and who won't forget you, this is how you will be remembered, in this photo taken just ten days before you were murdered

1 comment:

  1. It's a beautiful article, Dianne, and of course, beautiful is not the word to use, but I'm emotional this morning. Suffice it to say that you wrote a monumental piece and captured sentiments that so many share and on which I hope so many will thoughtfully and successfully act. Until we in this country understand that to allow this sort of behavior and "justice" to occur only hastens the day when those who believe they benefit from it will themselves be enslaved by it.