The Common Good

When You Can't Find Your Words

It’s been almost a month since the slaying of Trayvon Martin. This particular African-American child was intentionally shot through the chest while walking back from the store in a Florida suburb. He was armed with a pack of skittles and some iced tea.

Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images
Parents of shooting victim Trayvon Martin speak out. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

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For the past few weeks, each time I open my Facebook account or scroll through Twitter I see endless posts about the Trayvon Martin case. And I’ve seen Trayvon’s face over and over again. He was 17 but he looks like a 15-year-old cousin of mine.

I have not written anything about this tragedy because to be honest, I have been unable to find my words around or through this. I could write about anger, injustice, racism, the loss of another black male child, crazy American gun laws or even the shock or actually lack thereof, of how the police initially handled this murder. But mostly what I want to write about is the deep, deep sadness and sorrow I cannot seem to shake.

I am deeply sorrowful that this violent, cold-hearted killing of children is still par for the course of the world we live in. I am deeply sorrowful that the roots of racial prejudice and the dehumanizing of dark-skinned people runs so deep that it’s truly hard to imagine a world without these ongoing consequences. We have done such a good job of teaching and fostering suspicion, fear, and hate between people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds (socio-economics is a whole other story. Cue Rick Santorum and the “Blah people.”)

I wish we could hear about Trayvon Martin’s death and be shocked in disbelief rather then having to painfully acknowledge that we still have so much further to go. But those are not even the things that keep running through my mind the most.

I cannot stop thinking about the incredulous fear Trayvon must have felt in the moments from being followed to being shot and killed by George Zimmerman. I cannot stop thinking about how many more black male children, boys on the cusp of becoming teenagers and young adults around the country have heard about this tragedy and have imagined themselves marked in some newly intensified and terrifying way.

You no longer have to be a “boy in the hood” to worry about making it alive to 25. But then again, it’s been a while since that was the case. (Remember Sean Bell, shot and killed by police officers in 2006 the night before he got married.)

I haven’t written much about the death of Trayvon Martin because I cannot find my words, appropriate words, enough words, redeeming words, resurrecting words. I cannot find any words that could breathe any modicum of life into the death of this child. I listen to and welcome the words of others, of anger and the clarion calls for justice. I listen and I receive them because they are justified.  But all I am able to speak to at this point is of deep sadness and burrowing sorrow. For now.

I share these words from Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Walking While Black.”

Enuma Okoro, of Durham, North Carolina, is the author of Reluctant Pilgrim and co-author of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

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