The word stunned might best describe how U.S. citizens, particularly Blacks, felt after hearing that a six-member jury, following two days of deliberation in a Florida courthouse, found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Since then, other defendants would follow Zimmerman, using the controversial “stand your ground” law to avoid prosecution while civil rights leaders and activists have ramped up efforts to challenge a criminal justice system that routinely treats Blacks and women as second-class citizens.
“Blacks seeking justice must continue with protests, pressure and patience,” said Benjamin Crump who served as the civil attorney for the Martin family.
“We cannot ignore the realities that were unearthed in the wake of this still-shocking verdict – realities that exclude an honest and frank dialogue on race. Stand your ground is a broken doctrine of jurisprudence. It does not work in the same way for all Americans. As the years pass, it may make things easier to ignore, but it does not mean they no longer exist,” Crump said.
Shortly after Trayvon’s murder, the shooting of another Black youth, Jordan Davis, 17, illustrated yet another high-profile Florida case in which the shooter, a white man named Michael Dunn, 47, attempted to justify his actions saying he felt threatened after confronting Jordan and three other teens in their Dodge Durango outside of a convenience store on November 23, 2012. After complaining about the volume of their music, Dunn shot into the vehicle 10 times, with three bullets cutting through Jordan’s liver, a lung and his aorta.
During Dunn’s trial, Jordan’s mother, Lucia McBath (recently elected to Congress in Georgia) said to this reporter, “no matter what the jury decides I know it will be God’s ruling that has the final say.”
“If the murderers of Trayvon and Jordan could stand their ground why couldn’t our children? she asked. Black parents know that the rules are different and even though we try our best, we cannot protect them from laws that almost make it a crime to be Black.”
Florida passed the first such law in 2005, allowing people to stand their ground instead of retreating if they reasonably believe doing so will “prevent death or great bodily harm.” Other states followed with laws specifically affirming one’s right to defend themselves, even outside of their homes and with deadly force if necessary.
Personal Reflections on Trayvon’s Death
It’s been seven years since a young, Black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was targeted, confronted and subsequently shot dead by a white man who claimed that he was just protecting his gated, Florida community when the tragic incident occurred.
I would get a ringside seat in my role as the senior editor of The Miami Times, the largest and oldest Black-owned newspaper in the state and in the South, as protests gathered steam and as court proceedings for Trayvon’s shooter unfolded. More difficult to swallow in any objective way were the numerous opportunities I would have to spend time with the young man-child’s parents, family and friends who all willingly shared their memories of Trayvon, also expressing how difficult they found it to believe that something like that had actually happened.
Perhaps it was naïve for me to believe that the senseless death of Trayvon Martin was an anomaly and had little chance of reoccurring. But it has since happened again, and again and … again.
And so, as the days became months and now years, the list of young Black boys and Black men, as well as Black women, killed before their time — victims of police-involved shootings or wannabe cops – has grown longer. Still, I have clung to my assertion that it will only be a matter of time before this troublesome and senseless trend will finally end. Yet, it hasn’t.
I guess that’s why I frequently call my oldest grandson, 17, and my only male child, Jared, just weeks away from his 25th birthday. I’m sure they have long grown weary of me making them listen intently to me dive into “the talk.” I wanted to believe that these many chats will keep them both safe. I want to believe that my words will be key in maintaining the chasm between life or death for my two young warriors. But in my heart, I really don’t know if I believe what I profess or not.
So, I stay on the job and remain on guard. I tell them that they must always be aware and always avoid confrontations with the police in particular, and unknown white men in general. I tell them they need to think hard and fast about the people they hang out with, the kinds of places they frequent and the types of activities in which they become involved.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But as both Sybrina (Trayvon’s mother) and Lucia (Jordan’s mother) have been shared with me during several private moments, they had similar talks with their sons and they prayed each day for their safety. Neither of them told me that they could have imagined the tragic outcomes that awaited their beloved boys.
My oldest grandson is almost a man. The youngest is just starting school. More than anything, I want to see them continue to enjoy life and to keep moving forward as they navigate their way in this world as young, gifted and Black men. They deserve the chance to grow from boyhood to manhood.
And we, the elders, must find ways to better protect them. If not us, then who?