Blog In: If I was Trayvon Martin’s Mother

20 03 2012

I’ve admittedly been quite lax in my dating and blogging efforts lately. I am one quarter away from my graduation day and my MBA. Life often feels like hell right now, but I will persevere. Busy as I am, I needed to take time out today to participate in a Blog In in honor of young Trayvon Martin. (I know I’m a few days late, but I was in class on Friday.)

You’ve probably seen the news stories by now. Trayvon had walked to the store to get Skittles and an Arizona iced tea on the night of February 26th. On his way  home, roughly 70 yards from his father’s house in Sanford, Florida, he was gunned down by a volunteer neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense even though he outweighed Trayvon by 100 pounds, was armed with a loaded handgun, and followed Trayvon despite the 911 operator telling him not to.

Trayvon, of slight build, was armed with a package of Skittles, an Arizona iced tea, and a cell phone.

The case will soon be a month old, Zimmerman has not been arrested, and young Trayvon Martin is dead.

What the fuck???!!!

When I first heard the recordings of the 911 calls from that night, I got a knot in the pit of my stomach. My next reaction was a heat I felt course through my body as I got angry. Why is Zimmerman not in jail? AND, after hearing more about his history, why was he ever authorized to carry a weapon? Furthermore, who the fuck thought it was a good idea for this guy to do neighborhood watch?!

Why should I care, and why should I, a middle-aged white woman, take up valuable space on a dating blog to write about this?

Well, you see, like Trayvon’s mother, I am the mother of young, black men. Like Trayvon’s mother, my 17-year-old son often asks if he can walk a couple of blocks down to the store to buy some snacks. Like Trayvon, my son wears his pants low and often wears a hooded sweatshirt. Does this make him a criminal?

No.

In today’s America, it is his blackness that makes him a criminal.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. Maybe it’s something along the lines of, “How can you say your son is a criminal just because he’s black? I’m not racist. My friends aren’t racist. I have black friends. We have a black President. Yada, yada, yada.”

Then I challenge you this: Close your eyes and think of the words drug dealer. What image comes to mind? Most often it will be the indelible image of a young black man in his saggy pants that has been imprinted on your mind by the media.

As much as we would like to stick our heads in the sand and believe we are living in a post-racial America, it just isn’t so. All you have to do is go search for the story of Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida newspapers, read the insensitive, ignorant, racist comments left by people who apparently think they are invisible on the internet, and you will quickly know that racism is alive and well in America.

To summarize the gist of the comments: Zimmerman should go free because young black men kill white people all the time (a statistical untruth) and you don’t see white people protesting about it.

I am flabbergasted by this line of reasoning, but one thing I know for sure; we have not transcended race. In fact, I think we need a big “come to Jesus” moment around race. Instead of continuing to tiptoe around the issue, afraid to talk about it, I think it’s time for some serious, sustained dialogue.

If I were Trayvon Martin’s mother, first of all, I would want my son back. I would be devastated at the loss. I’m talking about the crippling kind of agony one feels when something tragic happens to someone you love. I don’t know how I would function, but this I know for sure; I would want justice. I would want Zimmerman dead, but I would settle for having him locked up. I would want him to get his day in court. I would want answers.

There is a key difference between me and Trayvon’s mother though. I’m white and she’s black. There are certain rights and privileges that I take for granted that Trayvon’s mother probably does not. It’s called white privilege. I grew up being told that if I was in trouble, I should find a friendly police officer to help me out. A police officer was your friend.

Now, if you’re sitting there saying, “Huh? What are you talking about?” you probably have white privilege. If you have never been stopped by the cops for “Driving While White” or because you were in the “wrong” part of town, you have white privilege. Be thankful. You’re life is easier because of it.

As a white mother of African American sons, shamefully, I have to admit that it took me a long time to recognize that my firmly held beliefs about my rights as a citizen would not be applied equally to my sons. When they were babies I kissed their pudgy caffé latte cheeks and could not understand how the world would not love my sons as much as I do. When I sent them off to kindergarten, I did not recognize that they would not be afforded the same opportunities to participate in class that I had when I was growing up. (There are numerous studies showing the differences between how often white, female 4th graders and black, male 4th graders are called upon to answer questions.) And, now that they are young men, I warn them about hanging out in certain areas, and it frightens me to think that, because of my white privilege, I may not have adequately prepared them for what to do if they are stopped by the police.

Neither one of my sons has an arrest record, but as the case of Trayvon Martin shows, you don’t need to BE a criminal. You just need to LOOK like one.

And, apparently, that is all the justification George Zimmerman felt he needed to murder Trayvon Martin. What does it say about our criminal justice system and our society if Zimmerman is not arrested and charged?

The old remnants of racism, white hoods, burning crosses, and a hangman’s noose, may be gone, but new forms of racial control have emerged to take their place. Nowhere is racial inequality more prevalent that in our criminal justice system. There are two dramatically different criminal justice systems in America, one if you’re white and one if you’re black. In 2000, a Human Rights Watch report found that in some states, black men are incarcerated for drug crimes at rates twenty to fifty times higher than white men even though the rates of drug use and sale are similar regardless of race.[i] Basically, cops don’t tend to go into college dorms to arrest white students for drug use and possession, and if Lindsay Lohan was a black man, we can presume she would have been sent off to prison a long time ago.

Would Zimmerman be in jail right now if he was black? I can’t say for sure, but I’m going to venture a “yes.” Studies have repeated shown that at every level of the criminal justice system, African Americans are disproportionately stopped and frisked, arrested, charged, found guilty, and sentenced compared to their white counterparts and it has little to do with their rate of offending. It depends a lot more on who is perceived to be a criminal. Who LOOKS like a criminal? Who is disposible in our society?

So, you see, if I was Trayvon’s mother I would probably feel frustration and hopelessness toward the criminal justice system. I am not his mother, however, so I can only imagine myself in her shoes. Those of us with white privilege need to think long and hard about this. What if it was your son? The administration of the law applied to the least of us affects all of us. It defines who we are as a society. Are we really okay with defining a particular race as criminal, locking them away in disproportionate numbers, and systematically eliminating them through the death penalty, life without parole, or, in the case of Trayvon, vigilante murder?

Really?


[i] Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice, Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, HRW Reports vol.12, no.2 (New York, 2000)

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22 responses

20 03 2012
Kathy D

I am in 100% agreement with everything you say here, Wilma. And furthermore, as a person with a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, I can tell you that the comment about young black men killing white people “all the time” is COMPLETELY false. Every study ever done on race and crime shows that crimes of every type are almost universally intra-racial. Black people commit crimes against other blacks, whites commit crimes against other whites and so on and so on and so on. Furthermore, when you study crime statistics for all crime, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that the “face of crime” in the U.S. is white and male. But if you read or watch mainstream media instead of researching the information yourself, you would NEVER get that impression. Period. One more thing: for those of you who don’t believe white privilege exists, pull your head out of the sand (or wherever else it is stuck). Not having people presume you’re on a scholarship or a beneficiary of Affirmative Action isn’t that much different from not having people act fearful around you or presume you’re a criminal. It is a privilege not to be judged by your skin color alone. Okay, since this is Wilma’s blog I’ll stop now, and try not to twist my ankle stepping off of my soapbox! Oh, and some of my best friends are white males, just so you know.

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thank you, Kathy. I really value your expertise in this area. I hope your ankle is ok. 🙂 African-American men make up approximately 6% of the U.S. population, but they make up approximately 44% of the populations in state and federal penitentiaries. People wrongly assume that this is because blacks commit more crimes, but copious research shows that is not the case. The rates of offending are fairly similar across racial lines, but the affects of institutional and unconscious racial biases in the criminal justice system, coupled with socio-economic factors result in hugely disproportionate outcomes. Thanks again for your comment.

20 03 2012
dittoditto

Just a little thought here, I used to live in Sanford, FL. It is a small city that has pretty much become part of Orlando, FL. Sanford’s population is about 40% to 50% African American. The Sanford police departmant has a large number of African American officers, although I could not tell you the percentage based upon race, my guess would be that it is a pretty high percentage.

Orlando and its surrounding cities has a lot of crime. There are a lot of home invasions, a lot of murders, a lot of theft, robbery, etc. I know there is a lot of gang activity. I also know that many residents live in fear because their neighborhoods are targets for crime. The police and the sheriffs are very over-burdened.

Years ago there was a question as to whether or not racial profiling was going on. I worked on the database for the Orange County Sheriffs Office. My job was to turn the incident reports (which were a flat file) into a database so that the incidents could be categorized by race in order to determine whether racial profiling was a reality. It was determined that race was not a factor.

Suffice it to say, that having lived in Sanford and having worked with the sheriff’s and other departments, I don’t believe that the officers are neglecting the matter based upon race. I think they are over-worked, and they are very thorough.

My point is only that the facts of the case are at this time one-sided. We should not be throwing around accusations and demands until the investigation is complete. This country has laws and until proven guilty a person is considered innocent. Let us allow the police to do their work at the pace they need in order to build a proper case that will hold up in court.

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thanks, DittoDitto. I’m interested in the study you were involved in. Is there anything published about the study online that one can access to see the data and the modeling?

I think we are all waiting to see what happens with this case. I was writing less from a standpoint of accusations than from a position of frustration. I am certain, had the situation been reversed, Trayvon would have been in jail that night. As a mother of black sons, I have little doubt about that. So, it’s the unequal administration of said “justice” on which I’m focusing.

21 03 2012
Julie

Although I completely agree that “color” is the basis for this particular indignation of the American justice system, I also think that the State of Florida is to be held responsible. It seems to me that one can quite literally “get away with murder” in this state!?! (Case in point – the Casey Anthony verdict)

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thanks, Julie. I agree with you there. After I heard about this case, I went to see if Washington has a “shoot first” law, and was happy to find out that we do not. In the process, I found all sorts of articles about how this law has played out in Florida. One man went to a park with his 8 year old daughter to play basketball, had a run-in with another man, was shot dead in front of his daughter, and the shooter got away scott free because of the shoot first law. (I’ll just add that the shooter was white and the now dead man was black.)

When my sons were little, and they would get in trouble on the playground, I would often hear them say, “but he hit me first.” I have always taught them that if you are going to claim self-defense, you have to have first made an attempt to get away from the situation. That’s the way the law is here in Washington. It seems in Florida, you can simply shoot first and ask questions later. Makes me sick and I wonder what kind of people let a law like this stand.

21 03 2012
ElderBaud

Trayvon’s big mistake: he left home without a White minder to accompany him.

Why would I make such an outrageous statement? Because I know it to be true from personal experience. When I am out and about, wherever I am, with my blonde-haired fiancée, I am that tall, friendly, intelligent Black man with that smiling woman. Same clothing, same areas, but without her? I’m that big scary Black man from whom you should clutch your purse more tightly. It’s so much a normal part of my life that I barely notice it at a conscious level. I simply adjust my behavior automatically.

One other thing: I’m so sorry that you had to actually state that your sons don’t have arrest records. Why would anyone assume that they do? Oh yeah…

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thanks, ElderBaud. I really appreciate your comment here as well as the advice you gave me the other day on those related issues.

21 03 2012
Kat Richter

Well said! And what a great perspective– thanks for sharing! Such a sad story…

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thanks, Kat.

22 03 2012
Kate

They talked about this very issue on NPR this morning: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/03/22/149130431/after-trayvon-martins-death-were-all-having-the-talk
Thanks for sharing your personal experience with this. It’s sad that our country has not moved far past where we were in regards to race half a decade ago…

13 07 2012
Wilma

Thanks, Kate. It was rather strange, because this NPR story was playing on the radio while I was driving my son to school that morning. We were talking about this. We had “the talk” that morning. My son’s school is predominantly white, so he hangs out with a lot of wealthy, white kids. I told him that if he is stopped while with his friends, even if they start talking back to the cops, he needs to refrain from giving the cops any reason to make his life difficult.

Unfortunately, you’re right. Our country has not made much progress on this issue where it really counts.

23 03 2012
wowmom

What happened to this young man wrenches my heart. I am the grandmother of 10 of the smartest, best looking, kindest, gentlest, sweetest, grandchildren that anyone could ask for. 6 of those grandchildren biological, 4 are through marriage. 2 of my biological grandchildren happen to be African-American, One is 17 and wears a hoodie…. This crap that happened in Florida scares me…. because a mother’s love is one thing…. the love a grandmother has for her children is consuming and when I saw the picture of Trayvon, it was like looking at my 17 year old grandson and my heart wrenched and broke for his family. That said:

You see, I was reared with the old Sunday School song: “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Our Dad told us that God’s greatest commandment is to “love one another.”

However, over the years, I have learned that the open-mindedness that my Dad reared me in and that I taught my own two children is not how most of the world looks at life. Although, I believe that what Dad taught me is how it should be, as long as there are differences of any kind…. Color, religion, economical status and on and on….. there will be prejudice.

Does it really have to do with color, religion, economical status etc? I don’t think deep down it does. I believe it has to do with power, control and one person or group having this grandious idea that they are better than others.

It is a sad day in this country, that where we spout FREEDOM, EQUALITY, for everyone, that there are people with so much hatred and anger in their heart toward others, that this type of thing continues.

What can I do? I can continue to LOVE…. and I pray every day for the safety of all my children and grandchildren and all of the children, “red and yellow, black and white,: and that one day, kindness and love will prevail and the hatred will be gone… It will take each one of us… one person at a time, like my Dad, who was friends with the only African-American in our small Montana town… one day at a time to make it happen. IT HAS TO BEGIN WITH ME.

13 07 2012
Wilma

You’re right. It happens in other arenas too. Whether you’re talking about race, religion, or politics, it is the hatred that bothers me the most. For some people, there’s no logic. There’s no search for understanding. There’s just hatred. I have no problem considering someone else’s viewpoint, if they have facts and logical information to back up their position, but when people just spew hatred, like some of the comments I saw in the Florida newspaper articles written about Trayvon, I don’t have any respect for that. To say that a race should be exterminated, for example, sounds a little too much like Hitler to me.

23 03 2012
wowmom

Oh, and BTW in fall, winter, and spring, you’ll usually see me wearing a hoodie too!

13 07 2012
Wilma

…and you sport a hoodie very well, I might add. 🙂

23 03 2012
nevah trauts

when i hear the word”justice”, i always think of OJ Simpson. Oh, and wearing a hoodie is , by black, white, ot latino demonstrating a wil to defy the law. They are, in the most part worn to intimidate. Why was Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie in the Florida climate. Even though he was alone, he had the hoodie and probably was antagonizing Mr. Zimmerman

13 07 2012
Will

I love when the OJ Simpson trial is brought up to justify racism and bias. Did OJ kill his wife? I am 99.9% sure he did. Did the DA prove it? NO!! They were the worst lawyers I have ever seen on a case and blow it. Now the Goldman’s lawyers proved it with ease. That the difference. Let not start this “justice talk”, because I can run down a list of at least 40 to 50 cases in the last 10 years that would make the OJ case look like child play. We have a saying in the black community, is it justice or is it just us.

Now back to the subject of your comment, why Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie. Simple, it was raining that night, you dumb ass!!!!! That is why he had a hoodie on. But of course in your small brain he had some criminal purpose. Let me quote your reply, ” he had the hoodie and probably was antagonizing Mr. Zimmerman”. It was Trayvon fault that Zimmerman followed him, it was Trayvon fault Zimmerman did not listen to the 911 operator and not follow Trayvon. It was Trayvon fault that Zimmerman, who was in street clothes came out of the dark and confronted him. It was all Trayvon fault, because Zimmerman did not know who Trayvon was.

It reminds me of a situation I once saw on a main street down here in Florida. There was a car accident involving 2 cars. The driver of a car (car 1) ram the back of the car (car 2) in front of it. The driver and passengers of car 2 got out and prevent the driver of car 1 from driving away (he was drunk). Soon people in cars passing by started yelling out their windows that they had called the cops and that they were on their way. The people in car 2 began to thank them, but stopped once that hearing everything that the people in the passing car were saying. The passing cars did say thank you for stopping the drunk driver from getting away and getting back on the road. Noooo, they were saying things like, you people better leave that poor man alone and you people are always starting trouble. By now you probably figured out that the people in car 2 were black and the drunk in car 1 was white.

So in America, when you come upon a situation that involves a black person and a white person, the black person is always the person presumed to be at fault. They then have to prove that they are not, even to get a fair hearing.

13 07 2012
Wilma

Bringing up OJ makes no sense to me, and therefore, I don’t even know how to respond to it, except to say, OJ has nothing to do with this case. This is the kind of illogical argument that goes nowhere for me. Nevah, are you saying that because OJ killed his wife, (and like Will, I’m pretty sure he did), that means that whites should be able to kill blacks? What are you trying to say? I’m sorry, but that’s not how “justice” is supposed to work in this country.

If you’re white in this country, you get to believe that you will be considered innocent until proven guilty. If you’re black, it’s the other way around. I’ve already seen it enough in raising my sons to know that the criminal justice system I was taught about as I was growing up does not apply to my sons the way it does to me.

ElderBaud and Will, I’m sorry that this is how things are for you. I truly am.

13 07 2012
Wilma

Since Trayvon was killed in February, I’m going to venture a guess that he was wearing a hoodie because it wasn’t a balmy 80 degrees outside.

Furthermore, I’m rather shocked by this idea of a hoodie being used to intimidate. I’ve never heard of such a thing. My law-abiding, retired mother wears a hoodie in the wintertime. I sure hope a block watch captain doesn’t decide to gun her down for wearing one.

13 07 2012
Wilma

I want to thank everyone for their comments to this post. I usually reply to comments on my blog within a couple of days, but on this one, I waited to see what everyone had to say. As I suspected would happen, I lost readers over this post. I guess some folks can handle how frank I am about dating, but they are not ready to have their beliefs about race challenged.

15 08 2012
Man #31, The Defense Rests « My Dating Prescription

[…] haven’t written about it here, except for the little I wrote about the Trayvon Martin case, but I have another, not so little, project I’m working on. By Monroe, I mean the […]

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