The Common Good

Lament for Trayvon Martin and Black Boys EVERYwhere

It’s about to rain. A rolling explosion of thunder just shook the ground my home rests on. Flashes light the sky and moments later … thunder rolls. That’s how it feels when I think of the last moments of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s life and the fact that the Sanford Police Department determined after a nearly non-investigation that Trayvon’s killer, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, did no wrong—nothing wrong.

Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images
The sun shines light on a new memorial in honor of Trayvon Martin. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

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Like the thunder rattling my apartment, the death of Trayvon Martin is rattling my soul. Like millions of Americans, I marveled over the fact that I had heard nothing on the news about the slaying in the three weeks since the incident took place. Then, when the Sanford Police released the 911 tapes over the weekend, and the nation heard Trayvon’s horrified cries for help before the single shot that ended his life, the story exploded—like my own heart.

Something broke in me. I actually sat paralyzed in front of my television—shocked. Then thunder cracked open my soul and I wailed. I mean I keened … and I couldn’t stop.

Trayvon looked like several of my nephews. He could have been any of them. He was just living his life on February 26—walking home from the convenience store before the big game, talking on his cellphone with his friend. That’s all.

Then in the last moments of his life, he was chased, cornered, beaten and shot by a white man he didn’t know for reasons never explained to him—except the accusation from his assailant that he didn’t belong there.

And why didn’t he belong there in that gated community? Zimmerman mentioned several things that caused him to be “suspicious” in his taped 911 call to the police. Was it because Trayvon was wearing a gray hoodie in the rain? According to the girl he was talking with on the phone, he told her he put his hood on because the white guy was staring at him. Was it because he ran? According to the same girl, she told him to run. He refused, but said he would walk fast. Then, ultimately, he did run and thought he got away. Was it because he had something in his hand? That was a can of iced tea. Or something in his pocket? That was a bag of Skittles.

Or was it because Trayvon was black?

Zimmerman mentioned several times in the course of his 911 call that Trayvon was black. And late Monday night, Mother Jones reported that severaljournalists and listeners reported hearing Zimmerman mumble “f**cking coons” as he got out of his car to chase Trayvon. I listened to the tape four times. I hear it, too.

Trayvon didn’t “belong” in that gated community because he was black. He was being while black. That’s all. But he did belong. He was staying with his father’s fiancé, who lived there.

In a couple of weeks, I’m throwing a baby shower for my sister, Hollie, who is pregnant with her first little boy. We’re all excited for the coming of our newest family member, but this morning I found this post from her on Facebook: “In a little less than 2 months I'll be joining the millions of black and brown mothers of sons. How on earth can you do everything right in 2012 (schools, parenting, etc.) and have your child murdered like it's 1955? (EmmettTill, anyone?)”

Yesterday, I found myself thinking of all my nephews. They are so beautiful, such good boys and regal young men. They love to laugh with each other. They never miss a family gathering. And they love living. I thought to myself, “Where can my sisters and cousins go to protect them?”

This was not a hypothetical question. It was real. I thought about it: in cities my nephews are more likely to be the targets of black-on-black crime or police brutality. In suburbs they are more likely to be targets of white-on-black crime. What about a gated community? People live there to feel safe. But, oh … that’s where Trayvon was.

Black men are targets everywhere—EVERYwhere.

Trayvon’s last cries for help haunt me.

And so the thunder rolls over us … and the tears come … and the earth is watered by a nation’s grief.

Oh, God, protect my nephews; protect black boys and men everywhere.

And, God, be with Trayvon’s mother and father today. Hold them close, Lord. Stand with them, Lord.

And bring justice, Lord.

Amen.

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