Lessons from Trayvon

Trayvon Martin (1995-2012) and Emmett Till (1941-1955).

A version of this post was originally published on March 21, 2012

The February 26th killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has rightfully sparked outrage in communities around the country. The heartbreaking situation Trayvon found himself in is one many black men can relate to, and the details surrounding the events have shed light on ongoing racial injustice in the United States. In a powerful and moving piece in the New York Times, columnist Charles M. Blow says:

As the father of two black teenage boys, this case hits close to home. This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them “suspicious.” That passions may run hot and blood run cold. That it might all end with a hole in their chest and hole in my heart. That the law might prove insufficient to salve my loss.

George Zimmerman has not yet been arrested and with passions high, it is easy to wish the harshest punishment upon him – as Blow suggests. But with the US holding the world record for incarceration rates and a legacy of violence against black men, it’s important that we challenge ourselves to think beyond the case of Trayvon Martin and consider the ways we can protect the lives of our youth. Here are three things you can work towards that will prevent the next George Zimmerman from taking the life of a young black man.

  1. Better gun legislation and regulation – If George Zimmerman wasn’t carrying a 9 millimeter handgun, Trayvon would still be alive. While the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms, keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of people with a history of violence will certainly help keep thoughtless murders from happening as frequently. This is especially true considering higher household gun ownership correlates with higher rates of homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. Organizations like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence suggest getting involved with a local chapter and contacting your Senators and Representatives.
  2. Repeal “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws – George Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested because he claims he shot Trayvon Martin in “self-defense.” Under the Stand Your Ground law Florida passed in 2005, George Zimmerman is protected. Emily Bazelon of Slate explores the history of these laws but explains how the Florida law changed things: “It further loosened the restrictions on using deadly force at home. It scrapped the duty to retreat in public places. And it gave people who use self-defense civil and criminal immunity. “This immunity allows for people to shoot first and ask questions later. And without the worry of prosecution, these laws encourage vigilantism. If you live in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington, you should be aware that similar laws are in place. Contact your Senators and Representatives to let them know these laws do not protect us.
  3. Black Studies education – In the 911 call George Zimmerman placed, he tells the operator that, “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Trayvon Martin was not on drugs, he was returning from the store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. At the heart of the matter is the fact that a young black man with a grey hoodie is cause enough for suspicion and murder. Without a comprehensive and progressive approach to teaching – at all levels and ages – black studies, theory, history and culture, these stereotypes and assumptions of the intent of black men will continue to be made. There are plenty of resources, like The Black Youth Project Curriculum Workshop or the PBS Teacher Website, that can help you find creative ways to engage students in these topics.

Sadly, Trayvon Martin is no longer with us. I can only hope his family is able to find some source of peace in this difficult time. In New York City, there will be A Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin tonight (3/21) at 6 PM in Union Square. Show your solidarity and throw on a hoodie.

by Vedan

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