I Am Trayvon Martin’s… Mother #100CityTrayvon

I’m not, of course. I am blessed and lucky in that my son, who was also a tall, lanky kid at 17, survived his adolescence, and is still alive.

I am white, and my son, for all his rich summer suntans and sprinkling of Native American blood, is also considered white.

Right now among all the talk about the Zimmerman trial, I’ve heard a lot of outrage from white people that “they” are being racially divisive. That “they” are stirring things up. That “they” should simply accept that this is the way justice works, and suck it up.

So here’s my question to all of you, who think that “they” should “get over it,”

Why Should Anyone Accept Injustice?

My sign was two-sided.

If you are white, live in a predominately white neighborhood, and believe American Justice is colorblind, you need to stop arguing and start listening. You may not know it, but yes, you and I are privileged, in ways we don’t even realize.

We can (and I do) argue about whether justice was served in the (eventual) arrest and trial of George Zimmerman, the white-and-Peruvian 28-year-old who followed, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was just past his 17th birthday.

As a mother or father, how would you feel if you found out your child had been killed walking home from 7-11 at 7:00 in the evening, and the person who shot him was questioned by police and released only five hours later? When it was still dark, when no full investigation could possibly have been concluded? When there was no arrest in sight, even though there were large discrepancies in the shooter’s story? “He said it was self-defense, and nobody’s alive to contradict him, so… sucks to be you.”

How about if your teenager was trying to pay for an orange juice, and was grabbed and mauled by the storekeeper? After striking the storekeeper to free herself, Latasha Harlins was shot in the back of her head. The shooter, Soon Ja Du, claimed self-defense and was convicted of manslaughter, but her sentence was reduced to a fine, probation, and community service. Because, well, unfortunate misunderstanding, and why should somebody who meant well go to jail over a dead (black) teenager?

How about 13-year old Darius Simmons, shot in the chest by his angry neighbor “to teach him a lesson?” While the jury in that case did find the child killer guilty, and not insane, consider how the police treated his mother after she had watched her elderly neighbor threaten, then shoot her child. After she had to hold her child as he died in her arms, Patricia Larry was apparently forced to sit in a squad car for two hours of questioning, and her home searched for the stolen shotguns the killer blamed on her child. (Note: no shotguns nor evidence of same in her house.)

For American people of color, there is the feeling, based on continuing insults and experiences, large and small, that when a person of color is the victim, our system of justice rarely brings its “A” game. Police accept the stories of self-defense, fail to properly collect evidence, and in general, just phone it in, when the victim is black, especially if the perpetrator is white. Police don’t respond as quickly to 9-1-1 calls in “troubled” neighborhoods as they do in wealthier ones.

Men of color frequently experience Driving when Black – being stopped for “broken” tail lights and issued tickets for speeding, even when neither circumstance is true. Women of color are shadowed by store clerks to make sure they don’t steal something. All these things add up to hurt and pain and calls for justice from those who are “stirring things up.”

Just having dark skin and being “in the wrong place” makes someone “the suspect.” as Zimmerman called Trayvon. Don’t “they all look alike”?

You know what’s really sad? You don’t even need to watch the above video to know what’s going to happen.  Sleeping while black = getting ready to rob someplace? Really?

When privileged white people tell others to “get over it,” or ask “What about the black so-and-so’s who shot a white person?” the question is, what about it? Did the police fail to investigate? Did they look for and arrest the perpetrators?  Were the murderers brought to justice?

Is there a regular and systemic pattern of Justice failing people with white skin and/or money?

We have to recognize that some people hold a false perception that a woman who is dressed a certain way, drinking, or flirting is “asking” to be raped, and that some people believe that when an African-American person is shot and killed that s/he must also have been “asking for it.” Why are we blaming the victim?

I Wanted to be Present, as a Witness and Ally, at #100CityTrayvon

I also had 101 reasons not to go. It was going to be hot. I had many other things to do. Getting to downtown LA would be very inconvenient. I’m not even sure whether the cause, asking the Department of Justice to indict George Zimmerman on civil rights charges, is a good solution for the current injustice. And yet, a piece of why I didn’t want to go was my own racism.

I was afraid. See, I bought into the propaganda that these rallies would all be filled with angry African-American people and incendiary, hate-filled speeches. What if somebody blamed me, said something nasty to me? What if somebody beat up on me, either there, or on the Metro going or coming?

I am ashamed of having had those thoughts and feelings, but I’m putting the truth out there. Yes, I was afraid that in a group of majority African-Americans, something bad would happen to me because I was a white woman by myself.

And when I realized I was having those kinds of thoughts and feelings, I knew if I didn’t go, if I let myself chicken out because I believed the propaganda, I wasn’t all that different from the men and women silently profiling and judging African-American and Hispanic people as “the suspects.”

Love the slogan on this sign.
Yep, lots of media present.

I’m glad I went.

Nobody beat me up. Nobody said anything nasty to me, or even shot me a dirty look.

There was a lot more praying from the guest speakers than I was personally comfortable with, but it didn’t hurt me.

There were many beautiful people there, much love and sorrow, but no hate or violence.

Shared a ride on the Metro with these hoodied “gangstas,” Shay and Keesha.

Most signs were homemade, though some were produced in bulk.

Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. It was impossible to SEE the speakers, from the back of the crowds.
LAPD and other ‘copters keeping an eye on the very orderly crowd.
The crowd was a rainbow of people: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native Americans young, old, in powerchairs…
And in strollers. Isn’t he beautiful?

The overwhelming thing that struck me about the crowd was how extremely polite everyone was.  “May I take a picture of your sign?” people would ask one another. “Excuse me’s” were abundant if people bumped into one another, or wanted to pass through.

I didn’t meet any angry people. I met people who expressed hurt, frustration, fear for their children, and despair, and yet, were still hopeful. Hopeful that although it seems the justice system had yet again failed, if we gathered together like this, our voices would be heard. That the killing of Trayvon Martin would not be allowed to be just another dead young black swept under the mat and forgotten.

Amazing Native American drumming and dancing

The march following the rally wound its way through downtown LA and then headed west on Wilshire. You don’t realize how hilly downtown LA is, ’til you are walking it on a sunny day with the temperature in the 90’s. Despite the heat, some chose to wear hoodies anyway (I was not among the brave/masochistic ones).

There was a police presence, both at the rally, and on the march, that was unobtrusive and supportive of our right to assemble and march.  Construction and hotel workers stopped work or came out and offered support. Drivers on the freeway and streets honked in support.

If you’re a grandparent, don’t you want justice, if someone takes the life of your grandchild?

After about 3 1/2 miles, a handful of marchers wanted to press on, to the Federal Building (about another 10 miles), and as far as I know, they did so. Most of the marchers, and my blisters, called it quits not far after this oddly appropriate theatre.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Imagine, for a moment, being the mother of African-American or dark-skinned children (if you’re not already). You’ve already had The Talk – probably, many talks – about being super-polite to the police, about having manners, and yes, about stranger-danger. These are talks that every parent, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, probably has with their kids, along with talks about drugs, about sex, and many other things.

But now you have to have The Talk about racism. About how there will be people, not just the police, but others: bitter old men with guns, paranoid shopkeepers, doped up neighborhood watch volunteers who shouldn’t even be carrying guns but are, anyway. Any of whom who may decide your kids “fit the profile” or look like somebody who has robbed them, and may confront them aggressively.

WTF do you tell your kids? What advice do you give to keep them safe? Do you want your kids to stand there politely when somebody who hasn’t identified himself challenges them? What if somebody, possibly a child molester, grabs them? Should they not fight to get away, because that gives their attacker grounds to shoot or stab them and claim self-defense? Should they try to run, and pray they don’t get shot in the back of the head or Tasered? And yet, you want to somehow give your children the confidence to succeed in life and not walk in fear every day.

If you don’t have to have that Talk with your children, then you are privileged whether you knew it or not. That is one terribly heavy burden you don’t have to carry.

Please, really listen to what your friends of color are saying about how they feel, what their personal and family experiences have been. Listen to what Melissa Harris-Perry, Joy-Ann Reid and others have to say about raising black children in current American culture.

I watched this mom, below, marching with her two young sons. Like any mother of any color, she wants to keep her children safe. Though it doesn’t look possible, she periodically drew them even closer to her, her body language speaking volumes.

Readers, this broke me.
Imagine walking a mile in her shoes.

Remember that moment, in To Kill A Mockingbird, when Scout knows that the jury has no other option but to release the black man falsely accused of rape?

And then, the verdict. If you cried with Scout then, as I did, you can understand a little bit of what families that include black young men are going through.

I know, to my deep shame, I still have racist fears and attitudes, but I am working on it. Let’s all take a stand against injustice, even if – or especially when – it happens to people who don’t look like us or share our privileges.

Did you participate in #100CityTrayvon, or other rallies or marches?
What surprised you?
Your thoughts?