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Etan Thomas

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Trayvon Martin Case Presents an Unfortunate Reality

Posted: 03/22/2012 12:32 pm

What do I tell my son He's 5 years old and he's still thinking cops are cool How do I break the news that when he gets some size He'll be perceived as a threat and see the fear in their eyes
--Talib Kweli


My son Malcolm is six years old. He is a fun loving kid, loves sports, Avatar The Last Airbender and swimming. Everyone thinks he is adorable. They look at his long dreadlocks, his big smile, his kind and playful heart, they comment on how respectfully he speaks to adults. He is a big kid, I am 6'10 and my wife is 6'0 so he's head and shoulders above everyone in his class. But soon, I have to explain to him that he will not always be viewed as a cute little kid. That as he gets older, that tall for his age, charming little kid with long dreadlocks will be looked at as a threat. He has an innocence that I am going to have to ruin for him very shortly. He is still under the impression that everyone will be treated fairly.


The case of Trayvon Martin is disturbing on so many levels I don't know where to begin.

According to published reports, on February 26th, Trayvon had gone to 7-11 during halftime of the NBA all star game. He was walking back through a gated community where he was visiting a member of the community. George Zimmerman, who is not a member of any police force but rather a neighborhood watch captain, called 911 to report "a suspicious person" in the neighborhood.

Zimmerman: "Hey we've had some break ins in my neighborhood and there's a real suspicious guy at {address redacted} This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something..."

He later informed the dispatcher that that he looks black.

He then says, "He's staring at me."

While on the phone with the dispatcher Zimmerman is heard saying that Martin is "running." When asked where he replies "entrance to the neighborhood." You can hear deep breathing as the dispatcher asks Zimmerman, "Are you following him?" Zimmerman replies "Yeah," and the dispatcher clearly says, "We don't need you to do that."

From this tape, it sounds as if Trayvon was the one who was scared, which would be understandable if anyone turned around and saw a man looking at them in an SUV in the dark for no apparent reason. I would have been a little uneasy myself.

When police arrived, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who had a squeaky clean record, no priors, and only a bag of skittles, an iced tea, his cell phone, and his head phones, was dead from a gun shot wound admittingly by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman wasn't arrested, because the police claimed to not have probable cause and Zimmerman claimed self defense.

My question is what exactly constituted self defense?

An unfortunate reality is that in Zimmerman's mind, he didn't have to see a gun, or actually see Trayvon doing something wrong. All he saw was that he was black, as he repeated two times in the short 911 call. Is the unfortunate reality that young black male equals threat? Or does a young black male at night equal even more of a threat?

I'm not going to stress the fact that the National Crime Pervention counsel who sets out the guidelines for how you run a neighborhood watch has a primary rule of thumb that you are not suppose to be armed.

Nor am I going to focus on the fact that since January of last year, Zimmermann has called police 46 times, or that in 2005 he was charged with resisting arrest and battery of a police officer and that alone should make him questionable as a Neighborhood watch captain.

Nor am I going to argue that the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law, couldn't be applicable in this case for the simple fact that as heard from the released tapes, Zimmermann left his vehicle and went after Trayvon.

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Nor am I going to make the race of Zimmermann an issue.

To quote Rev Al Sharpton:

The race/ethnicity of Zimmerman or any citizen in this type of scenario doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, it is the race of the victim -- Trayvon -- that does matter. It is his race and his demographic that is consistently depicted as the threat, and negatively portrayed in popular culture.

It is this perception that I have to teach my son very soon. That the unfortunate reality is that in Zimmerman's mind, he was justified and understandably afraid as soon as he laid eyes on young Trayvon. He didn't see a cute little kid who was drinking an iced tea. He saw a threat, a criminal, someone who could be on drugs or "up to no good".

Very soon I have to ruin my son's rose colored glasses view of the world we live in.
I have to teach him that:

1) There are going to be people who view you as the enemy when you have done nothing wrong.

2) You are going to be feared, cause suspicion, harassed, accused, and some people will be terrified of you

3) If the police stop you make sure you stop in a well-lit area and don't make any sudden moves.

4) Keep your hands visible. Avoid putting them in your pockets

5) Verbally broadcast your actions (i.e., "Officer, I am now reaching into my pocket for my license").

6) Always get the receipt after making a purchase, no matter how small, so no one can falsely accuse you of theft, later.

7)I have to teach him about Emett Till, James Byrd, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant , and Rodney King.

7) Many times actually being guilty has nothing to do with being viewed as guilty.

I have to teach him these things for his own safety. I wish I didn't have to take away his innocence, but for his own well being soon I will have to.


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