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Until Justice Weighs Down — Trayvon’s Story

Trayvon Martin has really been weighing heavily on my mind.

I thought of him as I watched my daughter and her little elementary school classmates recite their winning oratories at their Speech Meet earlier this week.  I sat there thinking that what happened to Trayvon could happen to any one of those little Black boys (or girls) standing onstage reciting their poems and fables.

It’s been almost three weeks since Trayvon was gunned down in Sanford, Fla. 

The 17-year-old Black youth was returning to the home of a relative in a gated community, no doubt looking forward to the second half of the NBA All-Star game, armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea.

He and his sugary snacks would be no match for the 9 mm handgun wielded by the admitted shooter, George Zimmerman, the self-appointed 28-year-old White “neighborhood watch captain.” 

For no apparent reason — other than race, and the fact that Trayvon wore a hood to shield his head from the early evening rain — Zimmerman deemed the Black teenager “suspicious” and called police, who advised him not to approach the young man. 

When the authorities arrived moments later, Zimmerman, 9 mm in hand, was standing over Martin’s lifeless body.  Trayvon had been shot in the chest, point blank, by the man now being called a “loose cannon” and a “vigilante.”

And to add insult to injury, Zimmerman has not been arrested, nor has he been charged with any crime.

The local police department has purportedly been investigating the White man’s claim that he shot the unarmed Black boy in self-defense.  Never mind that it was he who approached the youth, packing a 9 mm weapon.

But so far, Sanford Police will have us believe that under Florida’s “Justifiable Use of Force” law, the burden of proof is on the slain child to prove that he didn’t provoke the shooter.

On its face, this seems ridiculous to most reasonable people.  One of my Facebook friends summarized it perfectly.

“When I look at America sometimes I see a big bag of lies and contradictions.  We have to train ourselves to see the irony.  Zimmerman was a wannabe rent-a-cop. He wasn’t even a real rent-a-cop… and he has had problems with the police. Yet, his life is more precious than Trayvon’s? He deserves freedom?”

Most legal experts don’t understand this travesty either, as is the case with Orlando’s WFTV Channel 9 legal analyst, Bill Sheaffer, who thinks that “the use of deadly force in this case was unlawful.”

“Under the facts of this case, as we know it, it appears that it was an abuse of discretion for Sanford not to affect an arrest and send it to the state attorney’s office,” said Sheaffer.

On Tuesday, the case was finally turned over to the state, but the Sanford police have still supplied few answers.  So far, the department has refused to release the 911 tapes, citing its ongoing investigation, prompting Trayvon’s family to sue for their release.

ABC News is reporting that “according to law enforcement sources who heard Zimmerman’s call to a non-emergency police number, he told a dispatcher ‘these a..holes always get away.’”

In that same report, ABC News writes that one witness — a “long-time teacher” who reported hearing Trayvon crying out for help — was “corrected” by a Sanford police officer.  “The officer told the witness … it was Zimmerman who cried for help.”

One major civil rights organization is advocating that we just cut to the chase, and bring in the Justice Department. 

“The NAACP has no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford police department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation. We therefore call upon you to detail personnel to Sanford immediately to review the facts, ensure that the Sanford police department conducts an impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of the circumstances involving the death of this unarmed teen, and ensure that the responsible person is held accountable if a crime was committed,” reads the NAACP letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

It will be interesting to see how the Justice Department — read the Obama administration — handles this hot potato.

Already, tensions are rising, in the Orlando area … and across the nation.  A petition demanding that Trayvon’s killer be prosecuted will soon top a quarter million signatures, from people around the world.

Most notably, according to Tampa Bay Online, “members of The New Black Liberation Militia plan next week to take 28-year-old George Zimmerman to federal authorities since local police haven’t acted.”

“We’ll find him. We’ve got his mug shot and everything,” said Najee Muhammad, a leader of the militia.

Earlier this week, hundreds of angry residents turned out for a rally at Allen Chapel to protest Trayvon’s slaughter.  Baltimore minister Jamal Bryant told the fired up crowd, “This is a wake-up call for the state of Florida.”

Bryant declared, “We are going to shut Florida down until justice weighs down.”

Toward that end, in the event that no charges have been filed by then, a march has been called for March 26th, outside the city council meeting.

Some are even drawing parallels to the killing of Emmett Till in Money, Miss., in 1955, for allegedly whistling at a White woman.  Similarly, in that case, the authorities were slow to bring charges against the killer. 

Till’s murder inspired the civil rights movement, as Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems first demonstrated in her doctoral dissertation … and in her subsequent Emmett Till trilogy. 

Perhaps Trayvon’s death will inspire a new generation of activists, as it sometimes seems that not much has changed since the days of Jim Crow America. 

Hopefully, Trayvon’s story will be the proverbial smack across the face that most Americans need to disabuse them of the notion that we are somehow living in a “post-racial” or “post-Black” era, ushered in by the election of a biracial president.

Indeed, this case is a reminder that, in the eyes of the law, for all intents and purposes, Black lives are still considered worthless in this country — even those of our children.

I mean, Black people have come to expect the police to mow down our children, with impunity, but this case of the murderous “rent-a-cop” stands to set a dangerous new precedent.

All that matters, it seems, is the color of their skin. It matters not if they are living in a homeless shelter or a gated suburban community. 

Our children might even be among the top in their classes, as were my daughter and her adorable peers at the school event mentioned earlier, their futures as bright as their eyes, with their proud parents jockeying for position to film and photograph them, all dressed in their Sunday best. 

I have been imagining similar scenes with Trayvon and his parents. 

Alas … now all they have left of their son are memories and pictures, some of which they shared on the petition calling for justice for their boy.  Their poignant telling of Trayvon’s story seems a fitting ending here.

“Trayvon was our hero.  At age 9, Trayvon pulled his father from a burning kitchen, saving his life.  He loved sports and horseback riding.  At only 17 he had a bright future ahead of him with dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic.  Now that’s all gone.”


Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a cultural critic, public speaker and associate professor of Africana literature at Virginia State University. Her book, Black POTUS: From The Ideal To The Real: Collected Essays On Barack Obama, Race and American Culture, is forthcoming this fall.

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