Voices: RIP Trayvon Martin, One Year Later

It rained in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday, just like it did exactly a year ago when Trayvon Martin died there.

The shooting death of an unarmed black 17-year-old at the hands of a part-white, part-Peruvian neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community catapulted the central Florida city into headlines around the world and launched heated discussions about race and guns and Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

George Zimmerman, 29, faces second-degree murder charges in the case after invoking that law, which allows the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations.

Despite the damp conditions Tuesday, a crowd amassed outside Sanford’s Goldsboro Welcome Center and the Goldsboro Historical Museum by midmorning. Museum curator Francis Oliver said she opened the welcome center a few hours early to accommodate the score or so of people who gathered to get a glimpse at the items memorializing the slain teenager.

There are crosses and flags, dolls and pictures of the teenager, Oliver said of the items showcased at the permanent memorial made from the items that initially cropped up outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where Trayvon was fatally shot.
- Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times

It has been a full year since Jahvaris Fulton’s little brother was shot and killed. Yet the loss hasn’t completely registered.

“I know he died but it still doesn’t feel that way,” Fulton told MSNBC.com on Monday. “It’s like he just went away and hasn’t come back yet.”

But reminders of his brother’s death appear almost daily. When Fulton cracks open his textbook for his American Studies class at Florida International University on Tuesdays and Thursdays, his brother’s photograph and story are listed under a chapter on Civil Rights.

Strangers stop him in the mall or the supermarket, while others just stare with an odd familiarity, asking with their eyes, “Where do I know you from?” There are weekly meetings with lawyers and supporters and countless quiet, private moments with his family.

- Trymaine Lee, MSNBC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that among 10- to 24-year-olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans, and other reports show that more than 90 percent of the violence is from other blacks, mostly from guns. The statistics are heartbreaking, but the public faces behind the data extolling what the youths might have become are cause for collective tears and mass action.

A Children’s Defense Fund report, using CDC data, shows that though African Americans represent just 15 percent of the nation’s youths, they constitute 45 percent of child gun deaths in 2008 and 2009. In Chicago, nearly 700 children were shot in 2011. Between March 2011 and March 2012, 107 Chicago youths under age 20 were killed by gun violence.  Iraq and Afghanistan had become safer for our children and teens than our cities.

“There is more child and teen deaths in 32 years between 1979 and 2010 than in Vietnam, Korean, Afghanistan and Iraq war combined.” the report found.

Behind the numbers, there are the lives, the birthday parties, the graduations that won’t happen. The hoped for grandchildren becomes just a fleeting thought. The aftershock of the loss of one’s child becomes a wound that keeps on bleeding long after the balloons and teddy bears on streets to commemorate the slayings are blown away or blemished by dirt or rain.

- Barbara Reynolds, The Root DC Live

Since the killing, there has been a concerted effort by Zimmerman’s supporters to define him as Hispanic — as if this would change the case by removing the potential of racial profiling. This is a clever way of combining the “people of color can’t be racist” meme (an idea most whites usually reject) and the “one-drop rule” — a hold-over from slavery that says that having one drop of black blood meant you were a slave so that new slaves could be created even if they had a white parent. This rule has not historically been applied to other races and extending it to Zimmerman because his mother is Peruvian and his father German-American seems a strange stretch. And besides, race is a social construct, not a biological reality, so to evaluate whether he was racially profiling, we’d have to know what race Zimmerman considers himself. But even that question is moot once you realize that biases against people of color quite often reside inside people of color. Even if Zimmerman sees himself as Hispanic that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t view a strange black body in the distance through a racist lens.

If Zimmerman assumed criminal intent where there was none, assumed the presence of drugs and guns where there were none, assumed he was seeing a thug when we now know Trayvon was not, then he would have been applying racist assumptions to a kind of black Rorschach in the distance. He may be Hispanic, he may have had blacksin his family as has been asserted, and he may have mentored black kids as some have said. He may have even had black friends. But he may still have seen Trayvon in the distance and made a trio of racist assumptions about him. The test is not how he behaves toward every black person he encounters, or whether he is racist all the time. The test is how he behaved toward Trayvon and whether he viewed this black stranger as an armed, drugged criminal, as the 911 tape suggests, and treated him as such even though he was not.

- Touré, Time

Image via Daily Kos.com

Notwithstanding the protestations of his family and friends, who argue that Zimmerman has a multi-racial group of friends, Zimmerman appeared to live in a cultural bubble in which his understanding of the world was dangerously limited to those things most familiar to him. His “suspicion” of Trayvon mirrored the gaze that looks upon many blacks and Latinos with fear, distrust and expectancy of criminal behavior.

The hoodie that Trayvon wore on the night he was killed became an iconic symbol becuase it perfectly represented the criminalization of black men in America. Even in death, the young man who was gunned down after purchasing Skittles and iced tea was reduced to a weed-smoking thug who was delinquent in school.

We can’t begin to address gun violence prevention until we acknowledge that the criminalization of Trayvon was a mere extension of the racial profiling that millions of African American men face every day.

Considering the limiting depictions of black Americans in mass media, this shouldn’t be surprising. We can’t expect to have our minds saturated with destructive, violent images of a particular group of people day in and day out without that affecting how we view and operate in the world. This was why Trayvon’s murder reaffirmed my committment tomedia representations of communities of color

- Rahiel Tesfamariam, The Root DC Live

I can’t comprehend the words that can be written about the loss of a child. I haven’t even met my son yet, and I couldn’t imagine losing him before it is my date to rest my eyes for the last time. The mother of my child shutters as I read her these words on paper and goes off to the bed. I understand why. The human mind should not be exposed to these type of thoughts. I ate dinner with Trayvon’s mother and father last night and as always, I was in awe of their strength, compassion and love. They were made no different than any of us, but somehow they have been able to carry this unbearable burden that seems impossible for any other person to bear. They carry on not just for themselves, but for all parents who were able to say “good morning” to their children as they awoke today. They know the feeling of an empty chair at the breakfast table. They know the feeling of homework that is no longer due. They know the feeling of birthday candles for an eighteenth birthday that were never blown out. They told me that they never want any other parent to have these feelings. They would rather carry these burdens alone, than see another family experience the year they have. That is what keeps them going. That is what gets them out of bed each day. However, today more than ever, they still need to be showered with love. As the bible says in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Sybrina and Tracy, rest assured that the world mourns with you.

A year later, in their mourning, they still want to make sure the world understands just how much they loved their son, and how that love continues to translate to the love of all children. And it was evident, when we sat down for dinner and the most caring words came out of Sybrina’s mouth when she said, “is the baby here yet?”

I no longer struggle with the words to write. In the memory of Trayvon, I wear my hoodie today. In the anticipation of the birth of my first child, I wear my hoodie today. I hope you will join me.

- Michael Skolnik, Global Grind

Editor’s Note: Lyrics for the song posted below are NSFW.