It's been over four hundred years since the first African slaves landed on the shores of what is now North America. Together, they walked into what would eventually be generations of slavery.
Today, African Americans are still connected by chains. They're not made of iron, as our ancestors wore. They're stronger. Their strength comes from another's experience with someone who looked like me, yet wasn't.
I realized this at an early age. It can be frustrating, sometimes amusing, but often dangerous. I've walked into stores and could immediately feel scrutinizing eyes upon me.
I've entered elevators where white women have clutched their purses tightly to their bodies.
One evening, a friend and I were stopped by police in El Cajon, Calif., for purse snatching. It appeared we fit the description of the suspects perfectly: two black males, "one taller that the other."
As a 16-year-old, I dashed out of a store with a bag of candy. I was stopped at gunpoint by two police officers in San Diego. It didn't matter that no one had been robbed. Black boys aren't supposed to run out of stores. For many, it's an instant sign a crime was committed.
By now we've all heard the story of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black boy shot in Sanford, Fla. This kid was scrutinized for walking through a gated community by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch "captain". He was targeted because he looked like others who had committed crimes before. And to learn that this young boy lost his life made me ill. I know the facts are still coming in and we need to learn more, but what I do know makes me angry.
And I'm not the only one. Not only did the family fight for justice for their son, but many people of all cultures, races, and political affiliations have voiced their outrage, too. After the Sanford Police Department did a quickie investigation and covered it in secrecy, the attention was kept on the case. Now, Federal and State of Florida investigators have taken over.
And social media was a strong ally as people launched protests, signed online petitions, and spread the word about this horrible event. In short, people got involved and made things happen.
Even President Obama commented on the tragedy with his usual calm demeanor.
"If I had a son," he said, "he'd look like Trayvon."
But not everyone wants to act right. The so-called New Black Panther Party has taken upon itself to offer a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of George Zimmerman. The leader, known as Minister Mikhail Muhammad, spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper on his AC360 program.
"We can make a citizen's arrest when the U. S. Government won't do they job," he said. "According to the constitution, we have that right."
When Mr. Cooper challenged his knowledge of the constitution, he went on a wild racial rant. It was unbelievable. I'd never even heard of this group before, but this guy professes to speak for all black people, including the family of Trayvon Martin. Well, they don't speak for me and Trayvon Martin's family has denounced their reward offer.
In my opinion, the word "reward" is misleading. This is nothing more than vigilante justice. And, as we have seen in history, anytime overzealous citizens recklessly take the law into their own hands, it has led to deadly results. So, it's not really a reward, It a bounty. In my opinion, this group knows exactly what it's doing.
I'd like to make a plea to anyone who feels the immediate gratification of earning quick cash from committing such an act would be... well... rewarding. It won't, so please don't. This is especially to those who are black like me. Whatever you do, it will reflect on your entire community. Writing this is sad, but true nonetheless.
This is not to say George Zimmerman has earned my sympathy. He hasn't. There is something more important than him. If the only justice Trayvon Martin's family can receive is the street kind, then the image of justice in America will have been greatly tarnished. Justice in our country is supposed to be delivered at the end of a legal trial from a jury of one's peers, not at the end of a vigilante's gun.
I know I haven't lost a son, so this is easy for me to say. Nevertheless, we all need to have patience and let the law enforcement agencies complete their investigation. It doesn't mean that the world should take their eyes off of them. On the contrary, the authorities need to be reminded that this time they're being watched. But let them deliver the real justice Trayvon Martin and his family so richly deserve.
Because what someone does today will reflect on all of us tomorrow.
Follow Lawrence D. Elliott on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lawrence_author