We’ve all heard the story of the innocent looking elderly lady who clutches her pocketbook in fear as a young black male walks past her, or the people that move to the opposite side of the street to avoid “danger that may arise” from being in the presence of the previous described person. These young individuals get followed around in stores and even get kicked out of locations because they look as if they will steal or cause trouble. I admit even my senses heighten and I turn on my defense mode when I am approached by a strange black male. Society has told us to automatically perceive them as a potential threat. “They have track records,” we think. Appalling! Some may holler. But to those it happens to, it’s just normal everyday living.
For 17-year-old Trayvon Martin this battle of prejudging escalated from a temporary feeling of discomfort to a bloody altercation that demanded he pay the price of his life.
Picture the scene. Trayvon innocently stops at the local 7-eleven for a quick snack. He grabs himself a refreshing chilled Arizona tea and a pack of skittles to surprise his sibling. He begins his journey to his home. He was out of town visiting, so the neighborhood he walked was not particularly familiar with presence. Yet, he cheerfully walks while chatting on the phone with his female friend. Suddenly he feels that senses that he is not alone. “Someone is following me,” he exclaims into the phone. The person after him is George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch official. Zimmerman is also on the phone, but he’s talking to 911. “This guy looks suspicious,” he tells the operator. “He could be on drugs. He’s walking in the rain just staring. He looks black. He’s wearing a sweatshirt. He’s carrying something.” The operator directs Zimmerman to stop following the kid, but Zimmerman, afraid Trayvon will get away, keeps pursuing. Boxed in, Trayvon turns to confront Zimmerman. He tries to fight his way out. A punches lands against Zimmerman’s nose. The fight escalates, shouts are heard my neighbors. Finally a gunshot ends the altercation. Zimmerman is found standing over Trayvon’s lifeless body, his legs straddling the body, his 9 mm in hand and his hand on Trayvon’s back. Zimmerman’s grassy back and bloody nose and head indicates his struggle, but it’s nothing compared to the powerful blow he delivered to the unarmed teen. His wounds will heal, but Trayvon is lost to the world forever.
America Reacts. Outraged that Zimmerman has not been arrested, Americans began demanding justice for Trayvon. “I am Trayvon Martin” status’ and tweets took over social networking sites last week. Pictures of hooded individuals flooded the Internet. The once unknown teen was now being called the modern day Emmett Till and Rodney King. Those really dedicated to the cause stand in the streets with picket signs yelling “Don’t shoot me, Skittles and Tea!” and “Hoodies don’t kill people, people with guns kill people!” President Barack Obama issued his condolences by saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Those with sons place their family in the Martin’s shoes, and delivered heartfelt responses to the ordeal. Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) had to vacate the House chamber after taking off his suit jacket in a dramatic moment and revealing that he was wearing a hoodie during a speech in tribute to Trayvon Martin. He addressed the Speaker of the House by saying, “Racial profiling has to stop Mr. Speaker. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”
Everyone has one goal: Right this wrong.
The Case. There are three main arguments that play a factor in this case.
- Stand Your Ground– a law states that a person who is threatened can apply deadly force to his/her assailant in the name of self-defence. The victim receives immunity from criminal charges, which is why Zimmerman is said to not be arrested.
- Racial profiling– when a law official uses a person’s ethnicity and/or racial background to decide whether they enforce the law. Many believe Zimmerman Trayvon was targeted because of his race and his style of dress.
- Hate Crimes– targeting a victim because of their age, class, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
Hoody’s more than clothing. Trayvon’s hood has become the face for his protest. Protesters tag the hoody as the means for ending racial prejudices. However, Fox news commentator Geraldo Rivera called for parents to stop their children from wearing hoodies saying, “I think the hoody is just as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as Zimmerman.” He cited images in the news of Blacks and Latino’s performing robberies in hooded sweatshirts, exclaiming that we have been programed to see this as dangerous. Although Rivera’s comments are under harsh criticisms, the big question still looms: Would Trayvon have suffered the same fate if he was not wearing the hoody? If he was dressed in slacks and a button up, would Zimmerman even looked twice at him? But I feel an even interesting question would be, If Trayvon was white in a hoody would this case exist? What is the bigger factor race or clothing?
Final Thoughts. Do I think Zimmerman was a racist? I feel there is not enough evidence to tell. He may very well have just been afraid of the image we see everyday on t.v. as the “bad guy”. I do not know. However, I do believe that Trayvon died unjustly and deserves a fair trial to uncover the truth. I also believe that we have opened up a much needed discussion that was well overdue in the form of race relations in America. Prejudices do exist and we must stop looking at each other through stereotype lens and letting what we already think of people we barely know dictate our actions. As the old saying goes, “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.” It just may be so that we end up burying the bad before realizing it’s good worth. Afterall, that’s what Zimmerman did to Trayvon.