“71 seconds that changed America.” — Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother.
This week, BET and Paramount Pictures aired the first episode of Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story — the documentary series detailing the tragic assassination of Trayvon Martin. This documentary has caused black Americans to relive the horror of the death Trayvon Martin, a 17- year -old black male, murdered while wearing a hoodie and possessing skittles and an iced tea in Sanford, Fla.
The shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, gripped the hearts of black America. A few weeks later, all of America was forced to confront the reality of a black life innocently taken by the hands of an enraged neighborhood “watchman.”
Recently, we have seen the tragic deaths of African Americans at the hands of enraged citizens across the U.S. Most recently, the stabbings of Nia Wilson and Lahtifa Wilson at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, Calif. highlighted the violence often propagated against black bodies, especially black women.
The stabbing resulted in the death of Nia Wilson and sparked necessary conversations about the inability of black women to exist fully in a culture and society against black bodies and women. It also amplified the reality that black and brown bodies are more susceptible to state sanctioned violence and/or anticipated violence at the hands of enraged citizens.
And yet, America still doesn’t give a damn.
We have also seen the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, and a series of others since the death of Trayvon Martin — all occurring at the hands of the police. Those who are sworn to protect and serve.
And the question remains, who are they serving?
Such a question is necessary because it confronts and examines the allegiance of those who are there to protect us all. An allegiance that historically stands on the side of white being right. An allegiance that unapologetically arrests black and brown men and women at a higher rate than white people for the same crimes, leading to higher minority incarceration rates.
America’s allegiance is not to black and brown bodies. It is bound to prejudice, racism, militarism, and violence predominantly against people of color. And while Black Lives Matter rose as a voice and movement for black lives, the NAACP’s Youth & College Division amplified its voice, and black Americans across this nation cried out, the American majority kept quiet.
Such silence echoes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sentiments about the “white moderate” in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
But the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Apathetic white silence enables and permits the bias, discrimination, oppression, racism, and xenophobia that is presently at play in American society. And with this silence, there is an absence of challenging autocratic systems of government, refuting fake news, and standing on the side of justice for the disenfranchised. This inaction allows unaffected people to place themselves out of the realm of reality that minorities must face daily — a reality of police brutality, deportation, normalized violence, and prohibited access to equality.
America, and the world at large, can no longer escape the injustices of this era.
The death of Trayvon Martin no longer stands as an anomaly — it marks the peak of a movement. A movement steeped in the truth of African Americans existing in a nation where violence against our bodies has always been a scathing reality. The brutal lethargy of Americans to the plight of black and brown citizens is a bleeding wound without a bandage large enough to heal it. And yet, America still doesn’t give a damn.