Just over a year ago, I stumbled across a press conference announcement by a couple that was trying to draw attention to both the shooting death of their son, Trayvon Martin, and the refusal by investigators to so much as arrest, let alone charge and bring to trial, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, the man who’d killed their child. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton’s story—their loss—broke our hearts. Not just because we are humans who can identify with the pain that death brings, but because we are African American parents who know how devalued are the lives of our sons and daughters. How easily Trayvon could have been our son or our nephew or our brother or someone else we love. How when it comes to justice, our babies are all-too-often denied.
Today is the first step toward justice for Trayvon. It will be quite some time before we find out the outcome of the case—whether Zimmerman will be found guilty and go to prison for killing the African American teen, then age 17. But that Zimmerman is being prosecuted and faces prison time in Trayvon’s death is a step in the right direction.
We owe this to agitation. Passion. Persistence. And an insistence that a hoodie and sagging pants and skin color and grades and school records and marijuana usage do not and should not ever preclude a human’s ability to walk through a neighborhood, or be used as an excuse for cold-blooded murder.
Only time, special prosecutor Angela B. Corey skills and a jury of six men and women will tell whether Zimmerman will pay for killing Trayvon, but this much we do know: the state of Florida, the nation and the world now know the terror that Trayvon’s death struck in the hearts of black parents everywhere—the angst all-too-many of us feel whenever our children look at our front doors. We are tired of the stereotypes. Over the excuses. Done with a criminal justice system that’s quick to toss our sons in prison over foolishness but slow to do its job when the victims’ skin is brown.
Make no mistake about it: George Zimmerman’s trail is not just a murder case. It is a referendum on the civil rights of our children.
We at MyBrownBaby are proud to have led the charge in bringing Trayvon Martin’s story to the masses—in helping Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have their voices heard and get a real investigation into their son’s death. Just last week, I participated in a panel on HLN’s Raising America with Kyra Phillips to discuss, in part, George Zimmerman’s upcoming trial and a fellow panelist, a lawyer, lamented that the “side show” antics of Trayvon’s parents, their lawyer, Benjamin Crump and Zimmerman’s family and lawyer, was distracting from the case at hand and putting the trial in jeopardy. He went on to argue that our 24-7 news cycle and the proliferation of social media is nothing more than a distraction that has no place in the process.
I beg to differ: history says different. Had Emmett Till’s mother not made the courageous decision to have her son’s mangled, tortured body shown in its open casket in Jet magazine, his death would not have sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Had the evening news not trained its cameras on the images of police dogs and water hoses mowing down peaceful protesters, all of America would have missed the cruel injustice for blacks in the American south. Had Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton kept quiet, their son’s killer might still be somewhere, living his life like nothing happened—like he didn’t buck down an innocent child like a wild animal in the street. Media attention, mined from pubic outcries on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and blogs and petition sites like ColorOfChange.org and Change.org work overtime to tell the story. To make us human. To force the creaky wheels of American justice to turn.
Public outcry, demonstration and attention are as important to justice as is justice itself. We need it to blast Jordan Davis’s name from the rooftops, so that folk know that a child’s refusal to turn down his rap music can never be an excuse for pumping nine bullets into a car full of children, killing a 17-year-old kid.
We need it, too, to help the parents of Kendrick Johnson get a real investigation into the brutal death of their beautiful son—a death prematurely ruled accidental by a sheriff who appears to have jumped to conclusions, compromised evidence and swept KJ’s death under the rug rather than get to the bottom of what really happened to him.
Public outcry is how we came to know the name of Aiyana Jones—and how the cops accused of raiding her Detroit home like they were attacking terrorists in Iraq ended up on trial. It’s how the incredible film, Fruitvale Station, which documents the murder of Oscar Grant by a transit cop, made it to the big screen, humanizing a black man who did not have to die the way he did. The same is true of Hadiya Pendleton’s senseless death, which put gun violence in urban communities—that which is disgustingly meted out by our own people—on President Obama’s gun control agenda.
Without that outcry, Trayvon Martin’s parents may have never seen the man who stole their son’s heartbeat on trial.
The war on our children is not over—not by a stretch. Trayvon should be somewhere safe in his parents’ arms. There will be more children who fall to the senseless stereotypes and bias of others. But we thank God for this small victory—that George Zimmerman’s trial will force our nation to think about our babies. To embrace their humanity.
Travyon Martin is gone from here, but his death will not—must not—be in vain.
1. Teenager Killed in Florida by Neighborhood Watch Brings Terror To My Heart
2. A Year Later, Trayvon Martin Stays Lodged in the Psyche of Black Parents
3. On Eve of Trial, Zimmerman’s Team Tries to Make Trayvon the Scary Black Teen
4. For Trayvon Martin: Black Boy Swagger, Black Mom Fear, Plus More MyBrownBaby Fresh Links
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.