Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Young Black Males

Initially, I was hesitant about writing an opinion piece on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent public outcry because a multitude of gifted writers had already tackled the story from seemingly every angle. However, after reading Charles M. Blow’s, “The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin,” I was inspired by the last line of his piece, which states, “And that is the burden of black boys, and this case can either ease or exacerbate it.” As always, the New York Times columnist delivered his commentary in a poignant and articulate manner. This motivated me to write my own critique of the situation, and hopefully, someone will benefit from my thoughts and observations.

In case you haven’t heard the story, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American male was gunned down on February 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman, an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer. His killing outraged people from all around the world, especially once the circumstances surrounding his death were released. More specifically, statements made by Trayvon’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him during the incident, and reports from eye witnesses who heard Trayvon cry out for help seconds before the shots were fired. This certainly refutes Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self defense.

What makes this case so appalling is that Zimmerman has yet to be charged with the crime, because investigators purportedly cannot find evidence to dispute his claim of self defense. However, ask yourself this; what if all other things remained constant and Trayvon grabbed Zimmerman’s gun and shot him in self-defense? Police would have taken Trayvon into custody and at the pre-trial hearing he would have been remanded without bail. Seemingly, the Florida law would not apply to young black males “standing their ground.”

Point blank, Trayvon Martin was racially profiled and subsequently killed with an Arizona brand ice tea and a bag of skittles in his possession. That was his crime, craving snacks while watching the NBA all-star game with his father and subsequently walking to the store for an Arizona brand ice tea and a bag of skittles. It seems that “walking while black” is a class B felony in the state of Florida.

Hopefully, this case will entreat the state of Florida to repeal its “Stand Your Ground” law, which stipulates that a citizen who feels as though they are in clear and present danger can claim self defense even if they chose not to flee from their assailant. Since the passage of the law, self defense claims pertaining to homicides have almost tripled, and many of the people killed were unarmed.

Zimmerman’s claim is not viable, because under the law, the instigator of the confrontation cannot claim self defense. The body of evidence that is presently available clearly shows that Zimmerman instigated the altercation and carried out his crime with impunity. He is apparently nowhere to be found, and disconnected his phones before going into hiding. He should know that because of his crime, he will always be in jail, just minus the bars.

Trayvon’s senseless killing illustrates “the burden of young black males.” The burden that I speak of is the burden of knowing that once you reach puberty and start exhibiting adult features, you will be labeled as a threat. The burden of knowing that “I am Trayvon Martin” and that his fate, could be your own.

How do I tell my 12-year-old nephews that once the cute and childish features make way for more mature ones, for many people, they will instantly graduate to “suspect zero” status? How do I tell them that some people will attempt to minimize their success and magnify their failures, simply because of the color of their skin? How do I tell them that minor infractions will be treated as B felonies? To be young and black in America is tantamount to being perpetually on probation.

Talk to young black males all over America and ask them if they have ever experienced discrimination and an overwhelming majority of them will tell you vivid stories of police harassment, profiling and blatant racism. We all remember the point when we received our “education.” When we first realized that for some people, nothing we could do would ever be enough. When we learned that the measure of a man in America is not the content of his character, but the color of their skin. When we realized that we had to adhere to a different set of rules and, instead of complaining, we took note of this inequality and worked diligently to combat it.

No matter how hard you try, unless you have been in our shoes, you cannot fully understand the damage that these experiences can have on a person’s psyche. However, we have a choice; we can wallow in self pity or we can resist the stereotypes that are thrust upon us and become the men that our creator wants us to be. Our young black boys need our help; they are under attack from all sides, even from within their own race. They cannot weather the storm on their own.

We have to demand justice and put America on notice. It needs to stop racially profiling young black males, and imprisoning and executing them inequitably. How long will we allow the genocide to continue? A black male in America is indeed an endangered species, especially in the country’s urban cities, where the unemployment rate is well above the national average and going to prison is “business as usual.”

Going forward, let’s write a new chapter; not only for ourselves, but also for our children and grandchildren. Our forefathers did not die so that our young males can be gunned down in the street for no other reason than being black. This has happened before and unfortunately will happen again. However, when it does, we will exhibit the same outrage and resolve that we’re exhibiting in response to the killing of Trayvon. In the words of the great Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Which will you be?

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