I am Trayvon Martin
16th April 2012 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
I am Trayvon Martin.
I am also Emmett Till, Justin Sipp, Wendell Allen, James Brissette, Adolph Grimes III, Steven Hawkins, Henry Glover, Raymond Robair, Yusuf Hawkins, Sean Bell, Michael Griffith, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Joe Williams and Ronald Madison.
In short, I am every Black boy and man in the Western Hemisphere.
Like millions of Black men across the U.S., the Trayvon Martin killing triggered a flood of memories in me dating back to childhood of times when either law enforcement officers or agents of white supremacy sought to put or keep me in my “place.”
I remembered being stopped by a cop in my own mostly white neighborhood when I was still in elementary school for having the audacity to think I had the right to walk to the park through my mostly white neighborhood. And the time in elementary school when I was followed around the neighborhood before sunrise by a police car as I tried to finish my paper route. Apparently, my job as a paper boy in the sixth grade gave me the perfect cover for casing people’s houses and property.
I also recalled being followed around at Pontchartrain Beach amusement park after quitting my job at the ripe old age of 13. Mike, one of my former supervisors felt it was his sworn duty to follow me around the amusement park to make sure that I didn’t use my former employment status to get in free. After watching him follow me from one end of the park to the other, I casually strolled toward the entrance and asked a very surprised cop and the cashier at the window where I bought an admission ticket to prove to this crimefighter that I had a right to be in the park. Sometimes when I was in high school I would use the University of New Orleans library and often noticed as I walked across the campus that I was being shadowed by a campus police car — the officer or officers always made a point to circle me to make sure that I saw them.
One Sunday night when I was in college, I went to an A&P grocery store in Baton Rouge and discovered shortly thereafter that I was being followed around the store by this white man with a maniacal grin on his face. He seemed to take great pleasure in the discomfort he caused me and would end up everywhere I went in the store. The only thing that made him stop smiling was when I eventually doubled back and ended up startling him while he was looking for me. After wiping that smug smile off his face, I left a basket filled with groceries in the middle of an aisle and vowed to never return to that store. I broke that promise the next day as I returned to lodge a formal complaint against him.
Finally, I remember one night in college when one of my fraternity brothers and I decided to celebrate the end of final exams by grabbing a daiquiri and a burger. As we headed back to campus, we were stopped by police who told us that some white co-ed had been raped by a Black man and that we needed to stand on the corner as an officer drove her past us to make sure that one of us wasn’t the culprit. Needless to say, I was livid. I wrote about it in the campus newspaper and told every administrator and professor I knew about the experience in the hopes that some other poor soul might someday avoid a similar experience.
I don’t doubt for a second that Trayvon Martin felt all of the things I have felt over the years and then some. Unlike me, he didn’t have the relative safety that I had of being in a public place. He was out on his own, not knowing what kind of lunatic was stalking him.
His phone conversation with his girlfriend makes it clear that he was anything but a thug, despite efforts by right-wing media organizations to paint him as a thug who tweeted profanities, waved his middle finger and sported fake gold teeth. None of those questionable decisions by the teenager cost him his life — that was all George Zimmerman’s doing.
Now, as Zimmerman sits in a jail cell awaiting a possible trial and conviction, one wonders what long-term good will come out of it. Will local, state and federal elected officials stop creating laws that make it a crime to be Black in mostly white areas or give some Americans the right to take innocent lives if they are afraid or feel threatened? Will the criminal justice system stop allowing people with parents with power and influence to get away with murder? Will the culture of racial hatred and fear that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin and countless other Black men ever be changed or obliterated altogether?
All of these questions and many more race through my mind as I reflect on the approach of the 20th anniversary of the infamous Rodney King trial and subsequent Los Angeles riots.
In the meantime, I will continue to reflect on what it means to be a Black man in a republic that has made my very existence a crime punishable by death. The names and circumstances have changed over the years, but the plight of Black boys and men in America has changed very little over the past three centuries.
I am Malcolm Little, who was told by his eighth-grade English teacher that being a lawyer was “an unrealistic goal for a nigger.” I am Hector Peterson, the 16-year-old who was the first to die in the Soweto Uprising. I am Steve Biko, the leader of the Black consciousness movement in South Africa whose love of freedom and determination to bring liberation to his country cost him his life. I am James Chaney who lost his life in Mississippi for daring to encourage Black folks to register and vote. I am Mark Essex, whose rage about white supremacy boiled over and caused him to shoot innocent human beings and ultimately cost him his life.
I am Charles Deslondes, who had his hands cut off, was shot in both legs repeatedly until they were broken and was thrown into a blazing fire while still alive for having the audacity to lead the 1811 slave revolt, the largest uprising of enslaved Africans in U.S. history. I am Dred Scott, who took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, only to be told that Black people in the U.S. “had no rights that whites were bound by law to respect.”
I am every Black boy and man who has been miseducated, mistreated and misdiagnosed. I am every Black boy and man who has been lynched, castrated and railroaded by the criminal justice system. I am hundreds of thousands of Black men and boys languishing in juvenile detention centers, prisons and penitentiaries, prisoners of war and fuel for the ever-growing prison-industrial complex.
I am Charles Weems, Clarence Norris, Andy Wright, Ozie Powell, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, Willie Roberson, Roy Wright and Haywood Patterson — better known as the Scottsboro Boys — who were accused in Alabama of raping two white women and railroaded by the criminal justice system in 1931. I am the brother accused of raping a white woman that led to an explosion of racial violence and the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklalhoma in 1921. I am the Black man who found himself ensnarled in a similar plot in Rosewood, Florida in 1923.
I am Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Nat Love, Martin Delaney, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Quamana, Sengbe Pieh, Kook, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Kwame Toure, Mumia Abu-Jamal and all of the strong, defiant Black men that have refused to bow down to white supremacy.
I am every Black man rounded up by Boston police after Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife and unborn child and blamed it on the usual suspects. I am every Black man who felt the heat in South Carolina after the young mother Susan Smith strapped her babies into her car and submerged the vehicle in a lake.
I am Shareef Cousin, Curtis Kyles and John Thompson, all of whom were framed for murders by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and sentenced to die for murders they didn’t commit. I am every Black boy and man who has ever found himself at the mercy of sadistic, masochistic cops and others who enjoy nothing more than vilifying, bullying and brutalizing people of color.
Their suffering is my suffering, their anguish my own. I can never rest, never completely relax or let down my guard. Danger is always lurking, be it in the form of a trigger-happy cop, cowardly security guard or some obscure law that challenges my right to be.
This is my story, this is my song.
But tragically it is also the story and song of millions of Black boys and men unlucky enough to be born into a world where it is a sin and a crime to be Black.
This article was originally published in the April 16, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper