Let’s set aside the discussion for a minute on whether George Zimmerman should have been convicted of manslaughter. Or whether Trayvon Martin was the aggressor and George Zimmerman simply acted in self defense.
Let’s discuss an issue that is real and happening throughout our country even today. An issue, that if not properly understood, will keep many of my white brothers and sisters from comprehending why our black brothers and sisters are so upset over the “not guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman.
First, let me state that I am thankful that George Zimmerman wanted to serve his community. I believe our communities and cities would be better off if everyone was a concerned citizen. Too often, it is easy to become focused with our own time and families, that we cease to become our “brothers keeper”.
My concern is this. What did George observe that focused his attention on Trayvon being a threat to his community? What caused him to call the police in the first place? What caused him to follow Trayvon? Was it that Trayvon was wearing a hoodie? (Well, it was February 26 in Florida.) Was it that he was a teen? (I’m sure this community had many teens who were law abiding.) Was it that he was ducking by buildings? (It was raining. Who doesn’t seek cover in rain?) Was it that Zimmerman didn’t recognize him? (Possible, but this still wouldn’t be a valid reason to believe that he was robbing homes.)
“Hey, we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy,” he told the police operator. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about.”
What made Trayvon look like a “real suspicious guy” to Zimmerman? According to the police this was the fifth time in a year that he had alerted authorities to the presence of a black male he found suspicious. Now, I don’t know for a fact that he called the police because Trayvon was black. Nobody but George Zimmerman knows that definitively. But he appeared to have no legitimate reason to claim that Trayvon was a “real suspicious guy”.
The question many of my white brothers and sisters are probably asking is, “What’s the big deal? Who cares if he was being followed? Who cares if someone considered him to be suspicious?”
Imagine being a 17 year old boy who has spent the past few years of your life knowing that every time you walked into a store, you most likely would be followed by an employee. Imagine driving to the mall with your friends in a different part of the city and having the police pull you over and harass you because you “don’t look like you belong”. Imagine walking through a neighborhood unlike yours and having a grown man, twice your body size follow you and ask, “What you were doing there”, as though there could be no way you belong.
This is sadly the norm for young, black men. Many white/ hispanic Americans have the image engrained in their minds (through media, news, etc) that black males are always up to something illegal. They steal, sell drugs, fight, gang bang, and murder. When a young black male graduates college or does something good, he is an anomaly, he is not the norm. As parents well know, children often fulfill our prophecies about them.
If we treat someone as a thug, there is a better chance they will become a thug. If we treat someone as though they will never “make it” in life, there’s a better chance they probably won’t. If we treat someone as “real suspicious”, there’s a better chance they will give us a reason to be suspicious.
Not to say that Trayvon became the fulfillment of George Zimmerman’s prophecy. It is impossible to definitively know who threw the first punch or who was the aggressor. But could there come a day that you’ve had enough? That as a 17 year old boy, transitioning into manhood, that you are tired of people treating you like a criminal?
There is much more that can be discussed in this case, but I truly believe this is an appropriate place to start. For if George Zimmerman hadn’t determined Trayvon to be a “real suspicious guy” by mere outward appearance, there is one definitive point in this discussion. Trayvon would not have died as a 17 year old boy that day in February 2012. Who knows, maybe he would have grown to become a young black man that proved many of us white brothers and sisters to be false prophets.