Trayvon Martin. A name forever etched in the annals of America’s complex relationship with race.
We all know the story. A 17-year-old armed with only a bag of Skittles, a hoodie and mocha skin is followed by a neighborhood watch man. At this moment, neither are breaking the law. Then there’s a confrontation. A few minutes later, Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman is accused in his death.
Fast forward to Saturday, when Zimmerman is acquitted of all charges. Many people are thunderstruck and it reignites much-needed discussions surrounding race. The verdict unites some communities and divides others. The main thought that I can’t really shake loose is: How can I protect my son from being another Trayvon Martin?
I know it’s a question many African Americans have been asking themselves since the teenager was killed Feb. 26, 2012. I see it on Facebook, where one dad insisted his sons call him to check in on Saturday. That day the usual text message would not suffice. I see the concern in my Twitterstream, parents trying to raise first-class citizens in a world where some see them as “less than.” And I see it in the sad shake of a grandma’s head, as if to say we sure thought this country would be past this by now.
But we’re not. Today it’s how can I protect my son from being another Trayvon Martin. In 2006, it was How can I protect my son from being another Sean Bell? In 1999, it was Amadou Diallo. In 1998, it was James Byrd, Jr. In 1997, it was Abner Louima, 1989 was Yusef Hawkins, 1986 was Michael Griffith, 1981 was Michael Donald, 1964 was James Chaney, 1957 was Willie Edwards and in 1955, it was Emmett Till. (Did you know he was only 14 years old?) The list goes on and the further we go back, the more names are lost, tucked away in dark corners where America is scared to look.
I’m not sure how to be certain Logan or Ethan won’t meet the same fate as Trayvon Martin. I don’t feel I can trust that racial misconceptions won’t be around in 2024, when they are teenagers. I will try to raise them to know that all people are equal, no matter race, class or creed; have a strong sense of self and know that though some people have narrow minds, those minds never, ever define us.
In fact, we can help broaden them with honest, uncomfortable discussions and productive actions. The best way to improve race relations is for everyone to get involved. Talk to each other, find a commonality and let it grow from there.
These losses should make us squeeze our kids a little tighter, our love for each other a little stronger and maybe try to make Trayvon Martin be the last name etched in a shameful history.