Today, President Obama said, much to the chagrin of Conservatives and some Liberals alike, that he could have been like Trayvon Martin, shot to death in a Florida scuffle, because, it was implied, he was the same skin color as Trayvon. When I lived in Chicago, the African Americans in the town that I lived in stated to my parents that it was not the European Americans they were afraid of but the African Americans making the one mile trek to their suburban homes in the middle of the night. They implied that they were the targets of illegal harassment by their own kind. Many of the kids in the suburban town of Harvey, Illinois were my friends, and my best friend, Carroll, was the one man I had in my wedding party.
The President is right, he could have easily been Trayvon Martin. Shot by a person who, in his defense in court, hid under the myriad laws of Florida that were geared towards excusing crimes against African Americans. Was George Zimmerman the victim here? The defense lawyers would have you think that was the case, but the question resonates with one simple question in and of itself. That is, who had the gun?
Trayvon Martin did not have it. He was shot by it, and there is the problem. One of my best workers is a young sixteen year old African-American who asked me the day before the verdict what I thought it might be. When I told him that Zimmerman would go free he looked at me as if I was two or three-headed.
“How can that be?” he stated. I was not driving so I could look at the disbelief in his face.
“The defense made it seem that Zimmerman was screaming,” I said. “That doubt will resonate with the jury making it impossible for Trayvon Martin to be exonerated.”
He had nothing more to say. He sat silently in the truck, saying nothing. You could hear the wheels whizzing over the hot, sun-choked blacktop as the truck continued to move on. This young man had a cousin, and later that day I asked him what his take on the case was, but I could guess. He stated that the defendant would be found guilty at least of manslaughter. I told him my theory and he too, did not believe me.
The next morning I got my coffee, read the BostonGlobe.com and was not surprised to hear that Zimmerman was acquitted. Granted he was acquitted on a bit of a technicality, that being the Stand Your Ground law. My understanding of that law is that a person can protect themselves with a firearm if they feel their lives are in danger. My two young black friends could not believe the verdict, I could. It reminded me of the saying that excuses many human rights violations in communities of color, “The number one killer of young black men is young black men.” Too often we use that excuse to justify the criminal way that we treat people of color in their communities.
The President is right. In a similar situation he could be the victim of a hate crime. I personally am surprised that he has personally bridged that gap with his words, and not his actions. He could have issued an Executive Order against all “Stand Your Ground,” gun laws. He could have sacrificed his honor by showing anger over the verdict. All that he did was to say what my father used to always say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
So, who was right and who was wrong. Well, it is like Harvey, except that in this case the killer of the young African-American was partially an European-American. He walked the streets to supposedly keep the streets safer. He was armed and apparently able to use those arms. He was dangerous. As a protector of the neighborhood, he was out of his element. We can go over this case ad infinitum but the solution is simple. We need stronger gun-control laws. We need a President who does not just see the story but acts on it. Trayvon Martin will never come home again, and he needs to be remembered at least for what he was, a young man walking home one night who got in the way of a bullet. There may have even been a struggle, but he never had a chance. He should be lionized for putting up a fight, not degradized for not submitting meekly to his own death. Only George Zimmerman knows what really happened that night, and he is not telling.
Finally, do the Blackstone Rangers have any right to take Zimmerman’s life. Of course not. The Blackstone Rangers were active when I lived in Chicago and they were scary. Zimmerman is right to be scared, but he cannot avoid all black people all of his life. He has to come back to the America he thought he was protecting sometime. I just hope it is sooner rather than later.