My Son & Trayvon Martin

I posted this on my For Fathers blog, but the intersections between the mentioned events and my weak faith are undeniable.  I hope you can read where you should be prayerful for me and us…

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black child from Florida, was killed on February 26 by a 28-year old white man named George Zimmerman.  The killer has not been arrested, and a lot of people in and outside of Florida are calling for his arrest.  Many have spent days demanding, minimally, an investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death.  Almost as many are seeking some sensible understanding of the laws in Florida, and states like it, which allow for a gun-carrying questionable character like Zimmerman to follow a child with a pocket filled with skittles, harass him, and kill him.

At this point, the US Dept. of Justice has opened an investigation into the case.  The Martin family is struggling to find consolation and justice for their dead loved one.  Newspapers are reporting on how bright and cheerful and smart the young man was.

Bloggers and journalists are providing details about the killer’s background.  He likes calling the police to complain about black kids.  He said, the day he called 911 to complain about Trayvon Martin, that “they always get away.”  He was permitted to walk away after gunning down a child, with his 9 millimeter weapon.  He was not detained or arrested or charged.  Trayvon Martin is dead.  George Zimmerman is free.

My wife asked me if I was planning to blog about the situation.  I immediately said no.  It didn’t take two seconds to respond.  I didn’t want to think, much less write, about another kid getting killed.  I had heard about the case, seen it on television.  I tried to close my eyes to it because it was too much.

I didn’t want to think about Trayvon Martin or his family and how many tears they were shedding because their child was murdered by a guy who had hardly been questioned by the police after he was the last person to hear their child’s voice.  That murderer heard the child screaming, yelling for help that never came.

I didn’t want to think or write about how that long destructive history that doesn’t release people with skin like mine but that creeps and creeps and creeps until it opens up its big mouth and screams out loud because nothing and no amount of “coverage” can hide how hard it is to be black, to be a man, to be a father, to be a son.

I didn’t want to think or write about that place in my inner soul that keeps memories locked away in my heart.  Like the time a woman crossed the street when she saw me approaching her and like the shame I felt when I turned around after passing her only to see her cross back to the same street after I’d gotten beyond her and how downcast I felt because I was headed to a class in seminary where the story of my faith would remind me that I was called to love and serve people just like that woman who clutched her bag while passing a preacher on his way to being better.  If I were in Florida studying theology at that time; if I were in Florida carrying my briefcase with a Bible and a text on salvation-history and pastoral ministry; if I were in Florida with an essay on the elements of pastoral case most effective for families in today’s time, I could have lost my life.

I didn’t want to think about how similar Trayvon Martin is to the vision I have for my son.  He was a boy, enjoying life, getting good grades, collecting admiration from teachers; he was loved by his family, who over and over called the extremely deceptive police department when he had been missing for three days because his body was cooling on a medical examiner’s table and left like his parents didn’t want him when all they wanted was him.  That young child was so much like my child, the child in my imagination’s future.  He had a girl who liked him.  He ate candy.  He was wise in discerning when trouble showed up.  He called for help.

I didn’t want to believe one more time that a young child, approaching early adulthood, could be treated so terribly and that hatred and evil—whether because of racism or bigotry or power or other foolish sins—could continue to be so bold.  I didn’t want to think one more time that we had another example of criminal justice in the United States where the criminal was the only one who saw justice and when he saw it in the face of that sweet kid, he had to laugh in his blood-covered face.

I look at my son everyday.  I say things to him, things that I know don’t make sense to most people if they’re listening to my words.  Even Dawn laughs at the things I say.  And if I’m honest, there’s a strong dose of this current reality behind my instructions to my son.  His brain doesn’t get it when I’m just a bit too firm.  His brain doesn’t get that there is no difference between his father and the last black man who was walking down a street and mistaken for some other black guy.  Bryce’s mind doesn’t conceive that his daddy, the man who loves him, could be mistreated to the point of death for no other reason than he looked suspicious.  But my son’s father knows these things.  I know these things.  And I don’t want to think them, talk of them, or admit them.  The topics, taken together, form a gross compromise of morality and justice just to discuss them.  And yet I have to raise my son with these words in his ears.

I don’t want to look at my child, who is not even able to stand up at the toilet yet, and witness the closeness between his lovely face and the loveliness of another parent’s son in Florida.  The proximity between those two children is as long as a breath.  And I am aching with a lot of people about the assassination of promise and hope and joy in Trayvon Martin and in every other black loved one he has now joined on the other side of death.

In a strange way, I knew Trayvon Martin’s future.  In a strange way, I know the next son’s future.  Whether or not he is the image of the child who lives in my house, he will be my child.  And the worst fear in me these days is that I won’t be so gracious as the day I continued on to seminary class, that I won’t be loving when my next child, son or daughter, Florida or some other place, meets death in such a horrendous way.  After all, there is no difference between my son and Trayvon Martin.  And I don’t know if there is that much love in any world.

17 thoughts on “My Son & Trayvon Martin

  1. Pingback: “He called for help.” | signs of life

      • What’s even sadder than the murder of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman, is the countless murders of African-American youth by those who look just like them- in other words, by other African-Americans. See, it doesn’t surprise me that this happened to Trayvon because unlike many disillusioned folks in this country, I KNOW that racism is still alive & well even in 2012. However, what I can NEVER grasp my mind around, it the level of hatred that exist among the African-American community of one another. The ignorance of still-slave-minded blacks is a disease that plagues our communities on a daily basis. Instead of uplifting, motivating, inspiring, & encouraging our sisters & brothers- we are so quick to tear each other down & tear each other apart. It is a beautiful thing to see how many people of many ethnic backgrounds have rallied behind the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin, however, when all is said and done, the senseless murders of more African-Americans by African-Americans will continue. When will we as a people rally & march against this?

      • Lee, you are very right as I see it, both in your assessment and your passion. The thing I think I have to do is continue to watch where these “smaller marches” happen. I know in Chicago there are always reactions as well as proactive communal responses when and before a child is murdered by black hands or by hands that are unseen but probably are black. Mothers are always weeping. Preachers and activists are always crying out. Neighbors are bringing food to impacted families after coming up off their knees. I don’t see the news or the national figures always coming along, but I do think there is a sense of outrage at the deaths of all our relatives, children or adult. I still see that evidence of our collective humanity. I’d put comments and sustained thoughts like yours in that communal response too. I don’t think those, taken together, are enough. I don’t think that remedies what I’d ultimately call a cosmic problem, but I think those local manifestations of justice are often hard to see and, therefore, easy to ignore, which only heightens the belief that we don’t care, when care is at the bottom of what we do.

      • I don’t know Michael. When I witness on a daily basis, the constant disrespect, degrading, demeaning that goes on amongst our people….it just sickens me…for lack of better words. There is a serious lack of knowledge, of education, of knowing self, of knowing or appreciating or past & I will tell u how I know this. I am a school social worker & my school was a poll site this Tuesday. By the time I went on lunch at 1pm, there had been only 20, i repeat 20 voters. Not only this, but there were no politicians or people working for the politicians in this neighborhood doing last minute campaigning nor trying to get people to come inside to vote. We had the alderman come in today to tour our school yet she was not outside the school on Tuesday trying to get people to come in and vote. I tell u this to say, that this was very scary and disheartening to witness this because as we are amidst states in this country trying to pass laws to prevent people from voting based on not having state IDs or other forms of ID, coupled with the fact that many before us paid a high price for us to have the right to even vote…sir, we are in a sad state of affairs and in a state of emergency. We are one chain link away from being back in shackles and chains and black folks are still walking around slave-minded that they can’t even see it coming. If Obama does not get back into office & one of these Repubs become president, black folks mite as well pack it ALL up on cross somebody’s border. See, yes it is a shame that in 2012 I expect a white man or non-black to kill a “Trayvon Martin”, but blacks are the only ethnic group in this country that kills each other in the record numbers that they do. We are the only ethnic group in this country that, when we achieve financial success we soon forget who we are & where we come from and won’t dare help another black person get to where they are. AND THEN, black folks have the audacity to wonder why we can’t get ahead as a people???!!!! REALLY???!!! Well I will tell u why, because we can stop killing each other and hating one another long enough to come together & mobilize & make the much needed changes in our communities and our schools. White folks, the KKK don’t have to lynch us no more. Wanna know why? Cuz we doing their job for them-killing each other and ourselves. I am discouraged about the state of blacks in America, not because of the Zimmermans in the country, but because of my own sisters & brothers who just can’t seem to get it together!!!!

      • Lee, I hear you and I can’t disagree with your perceptive critique. We deserve that communal critique as a Black community. And I don’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t see reality for what it is. You’re on it.

        I’m only attempting to add to the picture with what is just as present as the concerns and realities that you’re writing about. Just as there is a real, true sense of daily destruction, and at our own hands, there are also attempts toward reconciliation, healing, correction, and lived wisdom. That’s my point.

        We are doing damage to ourselves. We don’t require the extra efforts of political or social groups to destroy us. We are at it ourselves. True, true, true. And yet, we are also at work bringing healing, bringing frustration to those destructive (Black) people, bringing the opposite of what’s also present. There are two opposing endeavors, and you’re highlighting one. I’m highlighting the other. I think both our positions assist us in seeing the part of the same picture we do. Your role as a school social worker puts you in unique posture to see the part you do. I think my role does the same for me. We need both pictures of reality to advance the cause of change and healing and repair.

        We need to get it together, and I think that’s what’s at work in actions and conversations like ours. I think work is happening. Because you’re a social worker and not a drug pusher, because I’m a pastor and not a pimp. To me, and to some extent I’m choosing to see another part of the picture, that evidences that the community includes more than what WGN discusses at night.

    • Well, it’s not the only thing, his ethnicity. It’s one thing. And I’d call that a convenient claim that just may be true–after all, I have good friends who are proudly White and Hispanic–but which wouldn’t take away from my sentiments. I would barely edit one word of my post if he was shown to not be White at all, something I’m unwilling to do. His ethnicity is a part of the problem, but the observations of my life, those reflected in this post, have most to do with my ethnicity. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thank you for this, Michael. I am grateful for your insights, vulnerability and honesty — about your son, your self and Trayvon. And I’m glad I found your blog.

  3. There is a lot of misinformation on this incident, tragic in every aspect. Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned by Sanford detectives (both black and white), and released, without his gun, because there was not sufficient evidence for his arrest. He still has not received his weapon. In the past 48 hours what has surfaced are other witnesses that support Zimmerman’s claims that, while he was following Trayvon against dispatcher’s directions, it was Trayvon that turned back to him, confronted him, starting a fight. A witness, one of the 911 callers that evening, said he came out of his apartment and told Zimmerman, who was being held down and beaten by Trayvon, that he was calling police, even as Zimmerman was crying for help. As that man was on the phone with police, he heard the shot, came outside to see Zimmerman now standing over Trayvon. Zimmerman was injured around his head and had grass stains on his back, part of the evidence the police and District Attorney saw that supported Zimmerman. The truth will come out; what we need in Florida are people of all colors calling for peace and patience, allowing due process of law to take its course.

    • James, you are right to say that the people of Florida need folks calling for peace and patience. And I’d add we all need that, even people from Chicago and other places, particularly since we share in the hearing and speaking of our nation’s tragic history across state lines. Thanks for that.

      I appreciate your comment, for the information it brings, for the updates since I’ve written the post, and for the reminder call for peace and patience, both inspiring acts which can be consumed and lost in the midst of uncertainty. I am grateful that investigations are happening, that pieces to this tragic event are being found and placed side-by-side. And I imagine that as those pieces emerge that the timeline itself will correct the record, even as some things about the societal problem this situation reviewed remain largely unchanged. An investigation of what happened and what didn’t happened, by whom and to whose benefit, will ultimately leave most questions about why Trayvon, an unarmed child, was killed by a man twice his frame. An investigation that answers those questions will be more than welcome by everyone in Florida, I’m sure. And I had read that Trayvon’s killer had grass stains, a detail that could be useful or could attest to his lack of cleanliness. I’m snarky on points like that really. Because, well, I, too have my cynical side that cries out for redemption. But I am happy to hear of true answers in response to this; my sorrow is somewhere bound to the fact that answers wouldn’t have come naturally and on their own though.

      And thanks for saying that the truth will come out. I read Desmond Tutu say that ours is a moral universe, that the universe bends toward justice. That sums up the spirit of both our comments, I think. My experience, and some of Florida’s history, and much of this country’s history can lean far away from that statement. Sometimes it’s hard to see truth coming, to see the universe bending. But I am a man of faith, as they say. So I’m believing the best about your statement and Archbishop Tutu’s. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Pingback: Derailment and White Denial in the Trayvon Martin Case « Irene's Daughters

  5. I hope your son is never on twitter with gold teeth talking about shooting m***erf***ers. The vigilante justice that sprang up over this disturbed me. I had my head split open by a black man and when the police refused to arrest him because they “couldn’t find him” and oh yeah he was a police informant, my ex-boyfriend (his brother) went and broke both his arms with a pipe. It was disgusting. Our justice system is not perfect but it nauseated me the calls for vigilante justice and that people care sooo much more when they can label the killer as white. Honestly, I don’t think the black population is generally in huge danger from people with Jewish names. Like, statistically, its not really something to worry about. Obviously any death is a tragedy but using deaths for political purposes is disgusting and I saw a lot of that and a lot of jumping to conclusions without the facts. It may well turn out to be self defense if George can get a fair trial.

  6. Pingback: Lamenting An Old Story | signs of life

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