Now that the trial of George Zimmerman is upon us it is worth taking a fresh look at the circumstances surrounding the tragic shooting of Trayon Martin. I reflected for a long time about what I might do if I felt there were “suspicious” looking folk walking around my neighborhood.
I am an African American male and I’ve been alive long enough to have experienced and witnessed many angry-making racial incidents in my community and in other communities of color. Perhaps during an angry phase, I could have decided to go out and patrol my neighborhood for those predatory lenders who have wreaked so much havoc in African American communities. I get angry thinking about folk like that. I have wondered if Trayvon Martin ever got angry when he heard about such folks. I wonder if he ever thought about going out to patrol his neighborhood to protect it from predatory lenders who were “stealing” from and “robbing” his neighbors. And if he were old enough I wonder if he thought about going out with gun in tow looking for anyone who was white and wore a suit and tie and looked suspicious. Hmm.
But let me go back to my anger. I don’t want to assume to speak for Trayvon and what he might have thought about doing. In my desire to protect my community, I could decide to patrol for those Wall Street types. Not all of them but just the ones who make decisions that rip the financial life out of thousands of human beings and leave them devastated. And maybe if I fantasize enough I would take a gun with me just for protection in case they were violent. But since those folks don’t come to my neighborhood I would have to settle for patrolling for predatory lenders. I could look for someone in a suit, tie and brief case and because of their dress and suspicious behavior, at least as I perceive it, I could assume they were up to no good. I could follow them, gun in tow and try and catch them trying to dupe someone. I am guessing for many this sounds a tad absurd. But I’m also guessing for many, George Zimmerman stalking a young Black man does not feel quite as absurd even if we feel like he was wrong.
Let’s take my absurdity a step further. I’m black and let’s say the predatory lender was white or perceived as white. Suppose the “lender” saw me following them and we got in a scuffle and I shot him. And say it turned out he was squeaky clean or maybe not so squeaky clean. Or say the fellow thought he was being followed and got angry and confronted me, maybe even trying to do me bodily harm. And say I shot him and killed him. Would I be assumed innocent and set free or would I go straight to the slammer? I know what I think but let me move to my next point.
Angry as I am at predatory lenders and their robbing behaviors, even if I decided to follow them, I would not have been armed. Not because I am such a great person free of sin and weakness. I would not have been armed because I do not think I have the right or the privilege to put someone else’s life in danger because of what I believe they stand for or because I’m mad at people who look like them or because of my perception that they might steal something or dupe someone. For me that is the bottom line. Although I don’t believe it’s helpful to demonize George Zimmerman, I have to condemn his choices; first to follow Trayvon (against the advice of the police), next to carry a gun while doing it and third for allowing himself to be in a position to use it. But my greatest condemnation is directed at the mentality that allowed him to feel like any of those things was okay or normal behavior. It is mentality that is frighteningly moving toward the norm. Even if it turns out he was within his legal rights, following Trayvon Martin with a gun was wrong.
I pray that as this comes to trial we will allow healing to take place among those who of us who are observing it. We can use this trial to further divide us or use it as a stimulus to reach out to each other with a greater sense of humility and desire for understanding. The latter will be my choice.