It is clear that I cannot consider myself a responsible blogger without dedicating at least some time the Trayvon Martin story. Trayvon Martin has become the latest symbol of the issues of racial prejudice that exist within the United States. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, I will provide a brief overview of the incident. On Sunday, February 26, 2012, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was walking back to the Sanford, FL home of his father’s fiancée from a local convenience store when he was shot by 28 year-old George Zimmerman—the leader of the community’s town watch organization.
Although George Zimmerman has claimed that the shooting was in self-defense, Trayvon Martin was unarmed and less than 70 yards from his destination when he died. Aside from the obvious injustice surrounding the poorly handled investigation of George Zimmerman, this situation was particularly troublesome to me for several reasons. Most of those reasons have already been expressed through television, blogs, and other media outlets. Therefore, in an effort to avoid redundancy, this post focuses on three troublesome reasons that were particularly striking to me.
1. The Suburban Location
Like Trayvon’s father’s fiancée, I live in the suburbs. Not once did it ever occur to me that my choice to live in the suburbs could put my visiting friends and relatives in danger. Growing up, I remember hearing stories from people at my church about how many of their relatives had been robbed, stabbed, or shot in their inner city neighborhoods. As a result, I moved to a safer locale just a few miles outside of Philadelphia as soon as I had the funds to do so.
I would be devastated if one of my friends or relatives was injured or even killed because of hidden racial tensions within my apartment complex. At the same time, I am well aware that these tensions do exist. That is a part of why I make a point of walking in my building with my keys in my hand. Sometimes, it feels as if I need to have proof that I belong there. However, I am realizing that walking with my keys in my hand does not make a difference since I still regularly frighten my (Caucasian female) neighbors on a regular basis.
2. Trayvon Martin’s Body Type
Trayvon Martin and I share a lot of the same physical characteristics aside from the basics, which include being young, male, and African American. However, there is one more key issue that we share—our body type. News outlets report that he was between 6’ and 6’3” weighed about 150 pounds. I am 6’2” and 160 pounds (including at least 5 pounds of dreadlocks). As much as I do not like to admit it, frames like ours are generally perceived as nonthreatening.
Just a few weeks ago, I was out at a birthday dinner with a group of friends. The conversation became slightly tense as two of my female friends expressed a disdain toward men with thinner frames because they perceived these men to be too weak to defend themselves in a fight. Needless to say, my frat brother and I quickly tore holes in their assumptions. We had to. We were the only two men with narrow builds at the table. This is relevant because people have tried to suggest that George Zimmerman at 5’9” found Trayvon intimidating because of his height. Trayvon Martin was not a massive giant like some of my cousins who are over 6’5” and weigh more than 300 pounds. He was just a tall, skinny kid who George Zimmerman conveniently became afraid of after ignoring the clearly stated instructions of the police dispatcher and acting like a renegade.
3. The Randomness of Sunday Night Convenience Store Trips
Last minute trips to the convenience store are pretty much expected at my family’s Sunday dinners. As much as I enjoy Sunday dinners, they take a long time to cook. Time seems to pass by even slower because the cooks in the family never begin preparing dinner until after church service has ended. Normally, this causes my cousins and me to make trips from my mom’s house to Wawa—the Philadelphia area’s greatest convenience store chain—in order to buy snacks to hold us over.
Many of our trips to Wawa involve walking just because the distance is too short to merit me moving my car. Like Trayvon, I would have been wearing a hoodie instead of carrying an umbrella in the rain because I would have wanted both of hands free so I would have an easier time carrying back my Arizona Iced Tea, Skittles, or whatever other snacks I purchased. Wearing the hoodie would have been a matter of practicality, hence my issue with Geraldo Rivera’s assertion that Trayvon’s choice of clothing was as responsible for his death as Zimmerman’s lack of judgment. If wearing a hoodie at night in the rain were a recipe for getting shot, then a lot of us would have died a long time ago.
These three issues are in no way meant to serve as an exhaustive list of concerns that Trayvon Martin’s story raises. However, they do remind me of just how easily the same thing could happen to someone I know and love. My prayers are with the family of Trayvon Martin, a young man whose promising life came to a premature and abrupt end because of a grown man who was overly eager to be seen as a hero. As a minister, my prayers also have to be with George Zimmerman who is the only living person who actually knows what happened on the evening of February 26, 2012. May God give all of those who have been directly affected by this incident the peace and direction they need to find some purpose in the midst of this tragedy.