“Empathy—real empathy, not the situational and utterly phony kind that most any of us can muster when social convention calls for it—requires that one be able to place oneself in the shoes of another, and to consider the world as they must consider it. It requires that we be able to suspend our own culturally-ingrained disbelief long enough to explore the possibility that perhaps the world doesn’t work as we would have it, but rather as others have long insisted it did.” —Tim Wise
On Feb. 26, I attended an Academy Awards party. This was a light-hearted event with cocktails and appetizers and hilariously apropos banter. It was a great evening, with everything in its happy, superficial place. I left with a slight buzz and a tummy so full that I had to unzip my dress for the ride home. All was right with the world. My world, anyway. For, about the same time I pulled into the garage, changed into my stretchy pants and placed one kiss on the forehead of my sleeping child, a young black man in a small town across the country found himself in a now infamous no-win situation that’s left me with an unresolved sickened feeling comparable to that which I experienced in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Like the images of desperate people leaping from buildings that haunted me daily for many months after the attacks, all I can think about these days is Trayvon Martin’s last horrifying minutes.
And I cannot stop thinking about his mother.
It makes no sense that my baby could be tucked safely in bed while Sybrina Fulton’s was being profiled, stalked and murdered by a self-appointed neighborhood policer and negro-phobe who, more than a month-and-a-half later, still has not been arrested.
This particular injustice is stunning to all reasonable people (a group that doesn’t include diseased white folks with a pathological need to deny the existence of racism). Though, as is common in racially charged situations, only white folks seem overcome with a wide-eyed shock; black America has been living with the realities of this epidemic for generations. This is not to say they aren’t shocked; I believe they are, but in an exhausted, not-this-shit-again kind of way. Trayvon’s death is the result of a longstanding homegrown terrorism that doesn’t end with the firing of the gun but continues to be perpetrated by a system that’s insistent on protecting the rights of a bigoted liar.
Of course, we can all go 50 rounds—and, in fact, we are, thanks to a trial-by-media—about the mishandling of the crime scene, the subsequent disregard for evidence gathering, the overall bungling of the investigation, the ridiculous question of who, exactly, was acting in self defense.
We can go another 50 over whether there were head wounds or a broken nose or a racial slur; whether the shooter’s father’s role as a retired judge is relevant (ahem); and the despicable, disgusting, reprehensible, unforgivable efforts by some to blame the victim (CNN has recently taken to showing a grimacing photo of Martin alongside a smiling one of his murderer dressed in a suit and tie, implying without words which of the two was the actual menace to society).But enough of all that. And enough with the infuriating politicization of—I’m gonna say it—what is really a black-and-white issue: George Zimmerman should have been, and needs to be, arrested.
Because the reality is—and we all know it: Had the shooter been black, regardless of the victim’s race, an arrest would’ve been made. We all know that had the shooter claiming protection under the Stand Your Ground law been black, the police would’ve placed him in handcuffs, confiscated his belongings, including his clothes, and told him to tell it to the judge. He probably wouldn’t have been read his Miranda rights, either.
And in the end, none of this changes the fact that, thanks to one puffed-up vigilante with a G.I. Joe complex (and a criminal history not shared by his victim), Sybrina Fulton’s child met the precise fate against which she undoubtedly tried to immunize him over the course of many dining-room-table conversations that probably took place for all of his short 17 years. Trayvon Martin’s is the exact tragic ending that is worried about and fretted over and feared by millions of black American parents.
It’s a fear that’s largely unknown and unrelatable in white households; nobody profiles white males in hoodies because Ted Kaczynski wore one. Meanwhile, black families everywhere look at their sons—and daughters—today and think Trayvon could so easily be one of them. What if is the terrifying reality every time their kids step out of the house.
As a mother, I don’t find it that much of a stretch to put myself in Fulton’s shoes. I know that Trayvon deserves better than what he is getting now, and certainly better than what he got that night. What he deserves is to be preparing for his SATs and going over college applications with his mother and talking to his girlfriend for hours on his cell phone and watching sports with his dad. What he deserves is to be posting whatever he wants to his Twitter and Facebook pages, like millions of other teenagers do every day.
What he deserves is for all of us to say that we are Trayvon Martin’s parents and for us to keep saying it until there’s meaningful justice, not just for him, but for all young people of color.