Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why Trayvon Martin’s Death Should Matter to You

All of the facts in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin have yet to come to the surface, but there are two important facts we do know. 1. Trayvon Martin is dead and 2. George Zimmerman admitted to killing a defenseless young man.  What upsets me and most rational people the most is how the case has been handled by the Sanford Police Department.  Here is one of many questions presented in this piece for thought:  How do you allow a person to walk away from a killing by simply claiming self-defense after admitting to shooting an unarmed teenager?  Self-defense after he tells the 9-1-1 operator that Trayvon is running?  Seriously?  It’s easy for Zimmerman to claim self-defense when Trayvon cannot repudiate the assertion because he is dead. 
Hypothetically speaking, imagine a scenario in which you have a lion and a hunter.  The hunter does everything he can to agitate the lion, chases him down and forces the lion to defend himself.  Once the lion reacts to the hunter’s aggression, the hunter then pulls out a gun, and kills the lion in “self-defense.”  The lion isn’t around to tell his side of the story and the myth of lion’s violent nature against humans continues to grow.  I’ll let you decide who the lion is and who the hunter is in this hypothetical scenario.
Anyone bold enough to talk about George Zimmerman and his rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty needs to remember something very important.  Trayvon Martin did not get the opportunity to prove that walking down a sidewalk, wearing a hoodie in a gated community, while being Black, IS LEGAL.  As a matter of fact, he did not need to prove anything to a stranger who followed him through the neighborhood.  Parents normally teach their children not to talk to strangers and what authority did this self-appointed neighborhood watch guy have over Trayvon or anyone else walking around that community?  What would you do if you were walking home and were being followed by an aggressive stranger, who could potentially be a pedophile, kidnapper, or murderer?  Running away from a situation like this is the natural thing for a child to do.
What are the parents of young African Americans supposed to tell their children when unfortunate situations like this happen?  Are they supposed to tell them that in addition to being extra careful when dealing with the police, you now must be extra careful when any random person wants to stop you and ask you questions?  Better yet, maybe parents should tell their children if a stranger starts chasing you for no reason at all, do not run or try to defend yourself; just lay down and allow that person to be the judge, jury, and executioner of your life.  If you try to defend yourself they will kill you, claim self-defense and be allowed to go free.  It’s hard to think race isn't an issue here because if the shoes were on the other foot and Trayvon shot and killed Zimmerman, and was standing there with a gun when the police arrived, the odds of him being arrested or shot immediately are pretty damn good.
I read a great book about a year ago called Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 written by Paul Ortiz.  As soon as I heard the sad news about the killing of young Trayvon Martin, I immediately pulled this book off the shelf.  Chapter 3 of the book particularly stands out to me because it discusses how African Americans had to fight racial terrorism during this timeframe, yet 100 years later the same type of vigilante injustice that was practiced back then is still happening today.
There were so many cases mentioned in Emancipation Betrayed that are eerily similar to this one.  Here are two excerpts from the book that helps me understand how the justice system in Florida works from a historical standpoint and why Trayvon’s death matters to me.

A hack driver was gunned down by white youths on a Jacksonville sidewalk after he failed to move out of their way quickly enough.  Another Black driver told James White, a newspaperman, that he owed him additional cab fare.  White shot the driver through the head, killing him instantly. Jacksonville police rescued White from a group of African Americans who gathered-allegedly-to lynch him.  An all-white jury excused the crime, noting that the assailant was depressed and had been drinking heavily for several days.”

Ortiz went on to say that “the lynching of black men in segregated Florida was frequently extolled as a civic virtue.”  At times it is hard explaining to non-African Americans why situations like the killing of young Trayvon Martin will cause people to react the way they have reacted. It is hard to explain, but as W.E.B. Du Bois notably spoke of an often fluttered around, unasked question in The Souls of Black Folks, “How does it feel to be born a problem? It is hard to explain to people who do not believe, or will not except the fact that racism is still alive and thriving in America in 2012. 

How can I help someone understand how it feels to be followed, stopped, and frisked by police who profile African American males while driving down the street without committing a traffic violation?  How can I help someone understand why an African American female is stopped by police and told that she looked “suspicious” because she has dreadlocks?  How can I help someone understand how it feels to be stared at in a retail store, stereotyped, marginalized, or scrutinized for no other reason than the “suspicious” color of my skin?  How can I help someone understand how it feels when I walk into an elevator with a woman while wearing my Marine service uniform and instead of her saying “thank you for your service to our country,” she turns her head, moves closer to the door, and clutches her purse as if I was going to rob her?  I must have looked suspicious to her because I am a scary looking, 5’11, 195 pound, bald, dark skinned, African American male. 

The questions presented above are real and happen to African Americans every day.  There is an entire generation of Americans who have been misled into thinking that racism is in the past, but sadly, it is very much so in the present.  This is not a political issue and I do not want to hear the clichĂ©, talking point concerning Black on Black crime, because people from all ethnic backgrounds kill one another every day.  This is about doing the right thing for a young man and his family. 

The killing of Trayvon Martin is very similar to the thousands of African Americans who have been unjustly killed in this country simply because of the color of their skin.  The historical information presented in Emancipation Betrayed and books about America’s violent past are not written to stir the “race pot.”  They are written so that we know and understand the events of the past and hopefully we will recognize current and future events that fit the mold of atrocities that were upheld under the law to protect people of all colors who are denied the common rights of a citizen of this nation.  
Your child or maybe even a person that looks just like me could be the next Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, or Emmett Till.  This is why the killing of Trayvon Martin should matter to you.
Shalom from a concerned African American citizen
Originally published by Steve Maynor Jr. on March 22, 2012 via Blogger.com

24 comments:

  1. Great article Stu. You brought things to my attention that I was not aware of prior to reading your article. More people than you know ARE reading your penned thoughts, they are just not taking the time to offer feedback.

    Keep going. You are doing what too many wish they had even the courage to do.

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  2. Wow! What do you say after reading something so insightful? It's hard to think of what this family is going through after having lost their son, especially at such a young age and on top of that having feelings of being robbed of justice and abandoned by the very system that is sworn to serve and protect. You're definitely right about racism, I experience it quite often...it's alive and well in America. It's something I have yet to understand but I do know that pride has a lot to do with it.

    I appreciate your point of view and that you’re using your time to expand the conversation of seeking justice for this family.

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  3. This is a great article Steve, Thanks’ for the valuable information. Yes, Trayvon Martin murder should matter to all people, not just African Americans but especially African Americans.

    Keep doing the great work. You are just awesome.

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  4. This scenario is frightening for everyone. It is difficult to believe that we are in 2012 with this blatant racist act even being remotely considered as an act of self defense. Stand your ground? While chasing someone? How can you do both simultaneously? My 16 year old wears a hoodie all the time. My 13 year old loves skittles and Arizona tea. Perhaps I should keep them at home.... Just to keep them alive. This is beyond our ability to appreciate or understand. How do we explain this to our children? Thanks for writing your blog.

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  5. Clear, concise, and on point write-up. What an overlooked and unaddressed issue that we habitually overlook in our country. My prayer is that we all have the courage to shout these and other issues from the rooftops, because it needs to be heard. Keep doing what you're doing because it IS making a difference!

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  6. Awesome, your point helps with the nature of the crime and gives better insight to what was an is still present...

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  7. Great job clarifying an issue many people truly don't understand. On March 27 and 29 we will be holding a protest on the USF Tampa campus in front of Subway from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I hope you can be there.

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  8. Great writing and bringing to light an issue that still gives nausea and I am so disturbed by, racism is and it has been the core of the hate and violence against people of color in AmeriKKKa,,,I will make sure to try to get a copy of Emancipation Betrayed and read it and share it,,,
    The injustice against African Americans, immigrants, and LGTBQI communities are one of the many reasons I left the US,,,
    Thank you for writing such an amazing piece,,,

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  9. Dear SSgt. Maynor, thank you for the wonderful essay! As the author of Emancipation Betrayed I was especially impressed by your thoughtful weaving together of past and present events. You have written a wonderful essay that deserves the broadest possible audience. (I am forwarding your essay to everyone that I know!)You will be interested to know that a good part of what I wrote in Emancipation Betrayed was informed by my experiences in US Special Forces in Central America in the early 1980s as well as life growing up Latino in the badlands of San Leandro, California in the 1970s. (Brian Copeland has described that town from African American perspectives in his powerful "Not a Genuine Black Man." Our students at the University of Florida are rallying tomorrow afternoon in solidarity with the Martin family, and we will hopefully get a movement started in Gainesville! Thank you for your insights and analysis. Keep on writing! --Paul Ortiz, University of Florida

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  10. Thank you all for responding with such positive feedback. I am glad that you took the time to read the article because this is not an isolated incident. I encourage each of you to pick up a copy of Emancipation Betrayed ASAP. I am working on a follow-up article right now about the rallies I attended in Sanford and Tampa last week.
    One item of note: I am a Master Sergeant of Marines, but I know there was no ill intent. (Smiling!)

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    1. First of all thank you SSgt Maynor for your service. I feel it is important to thank those who have served our country because I have not sacrificed in the same way you have (by the way where did you serve?). Now I really enjoyed your article, it is refreshing to hear somebody talk concisely and intelectually stating facts and refering to other people's work. I probably will pick up a copy of that book and decide what my decision is however I would like to remind you that even if Zimmerman did get out and follow the boy, the fact still remains that Trayvon did attack him (based upon newly leaked evidence corroborated by witnesses). Even if Zimmerman did antagonize, Trayvon is still a human being with reason and intelect unlike the lion you compared him to. If somebody attacked you in the dark of the night and began to really damage your body and you did not know if they were armed, what would you do? I simply would like for everyone to think about both sides of the story until all the evidence is gathered. I'm a strong advocate of staying on the fence and open minded until all information is reviewed. Thank you very much for your time and I can't wait to see your next blog post.

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    2. I am still on active duty and I'm honored to serve a cause much larger than myself.

      "Attack" is a questionable choice of words coming from the Zimmerman camp considering the facts from the 911 tapes the parents had to sue to hear. Had Zimmerman done the job of a real neighborhood "WATCH" captain and left the young man alone, this could have all been avoided. I simply want justice to be done on half of the young man and his family and as we speak, I don't believe that has happened. The lion scenario was in no way comparing a human being to an animal, so please don't misunderstand the point I was trying to make. It was an analogy.

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    3. I understand what you were getting at fully in your analogy. I guess in determining the verdict in this case we really just need to know if Trayvons response to Zimmermans idea of watching was appropriate. And I agree that justice should be done. In that I mean a trial by impartial Jury which is the American way. Let the system do what it was intended to do and clearly that has not happened.

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  11. First of all, I will definately thank you for your service. I am white and I feel outraged and deeply saddened at the same time. I pray every day that this man will be arrested. My heart breaks for this young man and his family and for the very sad reality of the world we live in. Every time I think of how frightened this child must have been I feel outrage all over again. I have to believe that one day we will all be able to see beyond the color of our skin to the soul that lies within us. I thank you again for the very thoughtful article that you have written and the time you took to express what many of us are feeling. Please know that I hope that all cultures are feeling the same way you and I feel at this moment in time. I pray for peace, comfort and justice for Trayvon Martin's family.

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  12. To hear this young man's cries in the background on the 911 tape saddens me so deeply and also makes me feel helpless. I can't help but feel that if I could just pause the tape, the tragedy would be reversed. I find myself placing my son in Trayvon's place. I find myself wondering if someone had walked up on Zimmerman prior to the shot being fired, would they too have been laying in a morgue. Based on the 911 tapes, Zimmerman just seemed hell-bent on shooting this young man. His behavior on the 911 tape is that of a hunter stalking prey.

    The question for this country is why are White people so afraid of Black men? These same people scream, shout and jump up and down while viewing these same Black men on the football field or basketball court. But when they leave the field or court and put on their hoodies (in the case of Trayvon, it was raining and thats why he had on the hoodie!), why do you all become so afraid that you want to exterminate them?

    I have marched (in Tampa this past Saturday) and continue to lift his parents and our entire nation in prayer.

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  13. Steve,
    I don't know what it means to be black in America today or any other time or any other race, because I am white. I do know what it's like to walk down a street to be judged by color of my skin. As a recruiter in the Corps, I was assigned to high schools in the downtown area of Tampa and I can tell you, I was judged. I had a number of weapons pointed in my face and told I was in the wrong neighborhood. I was told the reason a lot of the parents and their children did not trust me was because I was “white” or a “cracker”.
    Please tell me the difference between me driving a government car with government plates down 22nd Street in Tampa and this 17 year walking through a gated community? There shouldn’t be any. I stood the same chance if not more of being judged by my color (“honky”, “cracker”), being harassed (people approaching my car asking if I was lost, “you better hurry back to the interstate before you catch trouble” (paraphrasing), and if I didn’t leave their property, click click, I had the chance of “getting what I had coming.” I was doing my job and that required me to be there and may other places where I was not welcomed because of my skin. Not every house or street was the same, not every person treated me that way, but it happened none the less.
    I didn’t know this 17 year old and because God’s plans, I never will, but I pray that you and others can look past the fact that this was a white man and black teenager and just see the situation as a whole, two people caught in a situation that had a horrible ending.
    If I offended anyone with the words I used in this reply, I am truly sorry. I wish I could have used the word American in all the sentences or man and teenager, but we are not at that point in our country’s history where people will let go of color, and judgment of others because the color of their skin. Unless you were there you have not right to judge. Unless you were either of these two people, you will not know the motives for their actions. Until you see others by character and actions and not by location, color, speech, age, sex…this country will forever stand separated.

    Semper Fi

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    1. Thank you for sharing and there is no need to apologize because this is an open forum and people need to hear stories like yours as well. Don't get me wrong, I do not believe racism is not exclusive to just one ethnicity. I have heard the exact same ignorant "white man’s Army" argument from African American parents as you have and I look just like them! My follow up question to them is always "So it's ok for them to spend their lives behind bars in the white man's prison system, right? Or is it OK for them to continue living in a cycle of poverty where dependency on the government is the norm?” I encourage them to look at my own example of service in the military and open their minds to opportunities other than sports and entertainment.

      The point was to identify historical events that have been documented and the ending for the African American victim has not been good. I wasn't there to see what transpired and I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone in the case, but I'm smart enough to put two and two together. As more details about the case comes out, the more I am convinced that something went horribly wrong that night and it could have all been avoided. It could have been avoided by the self-appointed "watch" captain and the publicity would not be this great had the police and prosecutors not try to sweep this under the rug and expect the parents to roll over and take what the shooter told them as gospel. I appreciate the dialogue and wish we didn't have to have these kinds of conversations in 2012 because we all bleed red blood, but not addressing situations such as this one won't make the problem go away.

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    2. What you have done seems to be the greatest problem of all time, “put two and two together”. I figured, as a senior enlisted Marine you would understand the gravity of making assumptions about situations and making statements without facts.

      When I was growing up, we never talked about the black man as someone who was trying to force or take anything on us, I was told he is another walking this earth carrying his baggage of life just as carried mine. I was told to make the best choices for myself and I will be rewarded. I was told the world is mine and it was of what I made of it. I didn’t do well in school and for that, I did dig ditches as my father said I would; is that not the same lesson you teach your students? Make the same mistakes from the past and this is most likely the course of your life, but change, and yours is unwritten. There is no black and white in that statement.

      Why is that you see the prison system as the “white man’s prison system?” I go to the same jail if I make the same wrong decisions; I live in the same neighborhoods and attended the same schools as every other child of Tampa did, there is no difference. Only difference in is the one that your eyes perceive. What is the problem we need to address? People and their differences, you aren’t going to change people, just the way you react to them. What makes you think that woman in the elevator was afraid of you because of your skin, do you think she might have been raped before and any man scares her. It was her choice to act that way because her past dictated it; you reacted and retained those feelings because of the way you perceived the situation.

      You can let history and those who made it dictate your future and your beliefs, or you can create, change and mold tomorrow with your faith and your vision of how it should be.

      All that being said, I will never walk a mile in your shoes and you in mine.

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  14. You can believe what you want to and I will continue to do the same. As a senior Marine I know how to think on my own and provide an analysis based off of the information I have. Assumptions, opinions, and observations are different and I offered my opinions whether you agree with them or not.

    I used the prison terminology with sarcasm to counter their anti-military argument, but there is no arguing the fact that the criminal justice system and sentencing practices are different for minorities than for caucasians. (BTW, that's not an opinion, you can check the facts for yourself)

    I recognize when I'm being profiled and that elevator example was one in many I have personally experienced. I'm smart enough to recognize it when it's happening to me or to another person, regardless of their ethnicity and its wrong. Denial about the existence of racial profiling won't make the problem go away. I too have faith that things will change for the better, but I'm dealing with the reality of right now and I'm using lessons from our history to keep the same mistakes from happening again.

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  15. Wait for the facts. This blogpost came too early for this case. There was not one shred of evidence that this was about race.

    The jury has spoken. Is that enough for you to think that justice has been served??

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    1. If you think justice was served, so be it. If you are ok with people following your children, so be it. If you are ok with a child being profiled, so be it. It doesn't change the fact that an adult provoked a fight he loss, killed a 17 year old & walks away unpunished. It's never about race for people who have no idea how it feels to walk a mile in the shoes of a young Black man, who's automatically assumed to be a "suspect" for what reason? Just because a jury ruled one way or the other doesn't make their decision correct.

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  16. No one said it was right. But the state threw the book at the guy, and still couldn't prove anything. I watched whole case and every prosecution witness aided the defense's case.

    If anything, I think this case could be used to drive changes of legislation or policy. Something productive and worth while. I think the outrageous and irresponsible media coverage convinced people that he was guilty--before the facts were presented.

    Everyday black people are getting murdered in Chicago. Wheres the outrage? Children literally got shot in drive-bys on July 4th weekend. Perspective in this case would have allowed for less of a dissapointment when the verdict came down.

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    1. Perspective in this case was in the article, which is exactly why I referenced the book "Emancipation Betrayed" that addressed Florida's long history of injustice in regards to the justice system in that state. Read the book for historical context like I did and maybe you'll understand where I'm coming from. This problem is way bigger than this one case.

      There has been outrage by the media sources I read and listen to about the violence in Chicago and violence in general all over the country. I particularly pointed this out in another piece I wrote about gun violence and the nuts at the NRA who think guns are the solution to every problem. More guns being added to the already dangerous climate in America is not the answer. If the news sources you use don't talk about the craziness going on in Chicago, shame on them. I know I have talked about it and people in my circle are fully aware of what's going on.

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