Trayvon Martin and the Criminality of Blackness
In 21stcentury America, no black man, woman or child gets shot and killed minding his or her own business. It just does not happen. Not in post racial America where a black man is President and the dream of Dr. King has come to fruition. Especially if you are a young, black teenage male, you must have been doing something wrong and/or illegal to deserve a bullet in your ass. Therein lies the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. Not only was his life taken from him with such recklessness but the justice that was supposed to have ensued after his demise did not happen because of the darker melanin of his skin. Trayvon did not even possess anything on his person that could have been misconstrued as something someone could use as a weapon. One bag of candy and a soft drink was all Trayvon had . To further add insult, he’s drugged tested post-mortem and had to be identified by his parents through a photograph of him laying in the morgue. Very tragic ending to such a young life that had not even began to live just yet. Even so, Trayvon Martin was not the first and will not be the last young black male in America to meet his end prematurely due to the alleged synchronous nature of criminality and blackness by those who are not black.
If you are black and male, everything about you is being critically analyzed by non-blacks. The manner in which you dress, the tone of your voice when you speak, if you enunciate properly when you do speak, and even the manner in much you physically move. Have you ever heard someone who wasn’t black ever critique a black person speaking with, “He speaks so well!?” It’s as if they were only expecting the speaker to produce grunts, moans, and profanities. The bar is set very low for black people. The only thing that non-blacks give us freely are stereotypes. To some, black people are just criminals who just happen to be temporarily free. You don’t even have to be doing anything to draw this card. Look at Trayvon. He was just walking home when George Zimmerman called 911 and says, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Before Zimmerman can really even determine what is actually going on, he’s already concluding that some black, junkie addict is in his neighborhood looking for a home to burglarize because what other reason would he be doing in the neighborhood.
More than likely, Trayvon was purposely stalked and confronted by Zimmerman. Some words were exchanged and Zimmerman being the coward he is produced a gun. Trayvon took a chance and attempted to defend himself. That gamble in turn cost him his life. Completely senseless and could have been avoided by Zimmerman but just as he spoke to the 911 operator, “They always get away.” Was Zimmerman in a racist mindset when he approached Trayvon? The simple answer is, “Yes.” There is no doubt in my mind that if Trayvon had been Justin Bieber, this situation would not have happened. Hell, if this would have been a black female it probably would not have happened because black females are not perceived to be as threatening as black males.
Personally, I have experienced this type of incident Trayvon found himself in more than once in my life. The most recent and confrontational was four years ago. It was Christmas Day and I had a gift for a potential love interest that I wanted her to have that day. We hadn’t talked or texted at all and I wasn’t sure if I’d see her. After logically thinking it through, I decided that since I knew where her parents lived and that she would more than likely be visiting them, I would deliver the gift personally to their residence for her to have whenever she gets there. I get dressed and drive across town to the parent’s home. It’s a gated community with a call box at the entrance.
Upon my arrival, I drive into the visitor’s lane to utilize the call box. I don’t see the parent’s last name in the directory nor do I remember the address to their home. With no other visible means of accessing the property, my only other option was to wait for another vehicle to enter the premises so that I could follow behind for entry. Ten minutes later, my moment arrives with the appearance of this dirty Ford F-350 truck that looks like it had just drove through a mud pit. The gate opens and I quickly follow behind the truck. As I’m coming through the gate, the truck pulls over as if to get out of my way, I hand gesture a quick thank you and continue on. As I’m driving, I notice in my rear view that the truck is behind me and appears to be following. I quickly find a parking spot but no sooner than I park and remove the keys from the ignition, the truck pulls up behind me, blocks me in, and the driver jumps out with a shotgun.
Purely out of instinct, I quickly survey the man to see if I can identify any law enforcement paraphernalia that might be visible. I see none. The first thought that runs through my mind is, “Put the key in the ignition and only roll the window half way down.” I quickly turn the ignition key in a half turn and proceed to place my hands visibly on the steering wheel. The man walks up and is a middle-aged Caucasian male who looks as if he could be straight out of the movie “Wyatt Earp.” He has on dirty cowboy boots, denim jeans with shirt, and a big cowboy hat. He barks out to me with his shotgun in his right hand pointing down and his left hand pointing directly at me, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing!?” I respond, “Nothing. I’m dropping of a Christmas present for my friend.” I am careful not to make a sudden movement while I reach for the gift wrapped present sitting in my passenger’s seat.
In one motion, I go-ahead and roll my window completely down to lift the gift within his line of sight when he abruptly asks, “Who do you know over here!?“
I answer, “The Pradia’s.”
“Well, don’t you know their phone number?!“
“No. I’m not related to them. I’m just here to drop off this gift for their daughter.“
I slowly grab the door handle with one hand while still holding the gift with the other in making an effort to exit the vehicle. The man takes his knee and pushes my door back closed while in the same motion, grabbing his shotgun with both hands but still pointing it to the ground. At this time, I’m still examining him for any identifying law enforcement gear like a badge, belt buckle, or anything because he is very aggressive. I still see nothing.
“What is their address!?” he demands.
“I don’t know, but that’s their unit right there.” I point in the direction of the home. He glances over his shoulder as if just to see in what direction I am pointing.
“Why didn’t you call from the box?“
I am now becoming a little irritated at this point but am careful not to show it to him, “I didn’t know the unit number sir and I didn’t see their names in the directory. I’m just here to drop off this gift. That’s all.“
He’s looking at me more suspiciously, “Do they know you’re coming?“
“No, all I wanted to do was drop this gift off for their daughter. Once I do that, I’m gone. I don’t normally just get up and start driving around at 9 a.m. on Christmas. “
He leans in closer to look inside my vehicle and says, “We’ve had some break-ins and some crime around here recently…” I nod my head in agreement as he speaks.
“You’re supposed to call whoever you’re visiting from that call box and if they don’t answer, you don’t get in.” I am now becoming gradually more agitated but not enough to visibly show. I respond, “Yes sir, I understand. I just didn’t want my friend not to have her gift on Christmas day. Their name’s not in the directory.“
He eases his knee off of my door and takes one step back. “You don’t wait for someone to open the gate and follow behind them. That’s not proper procedure!“
Still nodding in agreement, I begin to slowly open the door again. “Sir, I’m just going to walk right there, give them this gift, and go home. That’s all I wanna do.“
His posture goes from tense to slightly relaxed with the barrel of his shotgun touching the tip of his boot and says, “You go-ahead, but don’t do it again. You make sure you call next time! “I drop the gift off and quickly get my ass back to my side of town before some life altering event occurs. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had handled the situation with the Cowboy any differently, I possibly could have been another murder statistic such as Trayvon Martin. Shot by an overzealous cowboy who thought he needed to defend himself from someone wielding a gift.
Consequently, contained within the aforementioned experience, is the dilemma of not just black youth but of black manhood in general. We must without fail be aware of our surroundings not only to protect ourselves from becoming a victim of crime, but to ensure that no non-black person can perceive us as being a criminal. It is the criminality of our blackness we just can’t seem to escape. This action of appearing to be non-threatening is daily. We’re sometimes followed in shopping malls and some retail situations. People lock their car doors and grip their purses tighter when we walk-by. If we’re on the same side of the street as a non-black, and there is more than one of us, people sometimes cross the street in order to avoid us. Personally, I’ve even had white women vacate an elevator when I’ve walked on. How do I know they evacuated the elevator because of me? The buttons of the floors they were going to were still lit. In 2012, this is still a black man’s life; always suspicious.
Often times, black men are more so victims of law enforcement than vigilantes like George Zimmerman. Our history is littered with the untimely deaths and/or shootings of black men by members of police organizations. Contemporarily, there’s Amadou Diallo. Shot nineteen times and killed by NYPD for reaching into his coat for his wallet. There’s also Oscar Grant who was lying face down and handcuffed when he was shot and killed by a transit cop. Another is Orlando Barlow. He was shot and killed with an assault rifle while surrendering to Las Vegas police on his knees. Equally important is Sean Bell. He was killed the day before his wedding by off duty NYPD officers because they “thought” he had a gun. Last but not least is the case of Robbie Tolan. Fortunately, he wasn’t killed but a police officer ended his minor league baseball career by shooting him in his parent’s driveway after pulling him over for allegedly driving a “stolen” vehicle that was in his parent’s name. These are just a sample of the most recent cases. The people who have sworn an oath to protect and serve the public have been some of the biggest perpetrators of injustices to black men.
In addition, the dominance of Rap music in American pop culture has not helped at all to rehabilitate the perceptions of black people to non-blacks. Crime, drugs, and street culture not only dominate the genre but are also promoted as a viable, satisfactory way to live. For instance, look at three of the most prominent artists of the genre currently receiving heavy rotation on radio stations across America; Lil’ Wayne, Young Jeezy, and Rick Ross. Two drug dealers and an aspiring Blood Gang member. Lil’ Wayne even took his ass on “60 Minutes” with one of the most embarrassingly ignorant displays of misplaced bravado I’d seen in an interview in a long while and declared to Katie Couric, “I’m a gangsta, Ms. Katie. And I do what I want.” Non-blacks see these types of actions and cement whatever negative, intimidating opinions they may have about black men into stone. Rap is not the problem but it is not helping either hence, the repeated attempts to assassinate Trayvon’s character through his deleted social media accounts because the images we see of him does not fit the imagery we see in rap music.
In conclusion, American history is littered with the innocent deaths of numerous black men, women and children solely because of the color of our skin. Some murders are more prominent than others, while many will never have their names known to the public because they simply “disappeared” without a trace or were swept under the rug. We’ve went from a people being castrated, drowned, and lynched for recreational purposes and/or out of simple anger by Caucasian males to a people who get shot because black people are just intimidating to look at. Especially, 17 year olds like Trayvon Martin.