An Open Letter To My Fellow American Friends and Neighbors from A Black American Mother
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This afternoon I took a walk down our block in Los Angeles and a white man just yelled “Go back to Inglewood or Ima shoot you like they did that Trayvon Martin!”
I was going to say something but I had my son. And I didn’t know if the white man really had a gun. And I want my son to stay alive. So I left and came home. And then I read the text my sister had just sent me that Zimmerman had been acquitted of murdering Trayvon and I understood why that man felt he could run out after us and say what he said. This verdict has set a precedent giving racists the carte blanche to kill people of color and get away with it. And I am terrified.
I have been learning something this past year. It is that only in America can a black boy be put on trial for his own murder. Maybe this is why I have tried to keep some distance between myself and this trial, the same distance I tried to keep with that man today. I just had a feeling that this would not end the way most black folks needed it to end, and that truth was just too hard to face. And this is a too familiar story. And it is too close to home. And I still don’t know how to hold it. I can’t hold it. As the mother of a Black boy in America, my worst fear is that someone will do to my son what was done to Trayvon–hurt him, try to kill him. Just because of the color of his skin. As Jelani Cobb wrote in Tuesday’s The New Yorker:
“What remains frustratingly marginal in this discussion is the point Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel raised in her testimony—that Martin himself was afraid, that a black person might assess a [white] man following him in a car and on foot as a threat, never mind that he might have seen Zimmerman’s weapon and suspected his life was in danger. Imagine George Zimmerman being followed at night, in the rain, by an armed, unknown, Black man and you have an encounter that far exceeds the minimal definition of “creepy.” Indeed, you have a circumstance in which anyone would reasonably fear for his life…And, most crucially, is an unarmed black teenager ever entitled to stand his ground?”
Dear friend, do not we, although brown, do not we not have a right to stand our ground, a right to be considered a person–and thus worthy of protection too?
Because some people are saying George Zimmerman was right and he should have done what he did. And George Zimmerman is saying he was right, he would do it again. And other people are saying that George Zimmerman is an inspiration, that they will go out and find their own black boy and kill him good and do it again and again.
And we are saying this is what this trial is about—this racial profiling, this accepted racial violence, this double standard. We are saying that this is the central issue of this case: that in America in 2013 any white person can kill any black person even if the admitted murderer is a man and the victim is a child—a child, are you hearing me—a child.
And get away with it.
“No…it is because Zimmerman was afraid” some people are saying.
Afraid of what? He had 100 pounds and 10 years on the poor boy. And if Zimmerman was afraid, then why get out of the car with the gun? Why not stay inside and wait for the trained police officers like the one of the phone told him?
“It is better to err on the side of safety,” some people are saying.
Whose safety? What danger is there in a brown boy walking to himself? None. What danger is Trayvon to you—walking home and minding his own business? None. Why assume Trayvon is up to no good? Why not assume the boy is up to good and leave him alone?
Marijauna is a sin and it had made Trayvon aggressive.”
What about all the white people who use marijuana? The states where it is legal?
“Because Zimmerman wanted to protect people, and the victim looked suspicious.”
And here is the dangerous assumption, dear friend. The most deadly assumption. That “You” is only ever white. That “people” is always only ever white.
Are not those of us who are brown people too? And are we are not frightened of you, with your gun, running after us for no reason.
Do we not have a right to be here, walking home?
What about our brown bodies doing that simple act makes us look suspicious? And if, everytime you see it you will come after with a gun to shoot and kill—how, then, can we live? How will I protect my son from you and your guns and your hate and your power to hurt him and justify it afterwards?
Again I say only in America can a white man over 100 pounds heavier 10 years older get out of his car with a loaded weapon, chase down an unarmed child, initiate confrontation, shoot him, kill him, and then go free. Only in America will his parents then have to start a grassroots campaign on the internet to have the admitted murderer arrested, tried by the state. Only in America will people defend the killer, call upon all sorts of reasons that the boy deserved to be shot just because he was brown.
Only in America will the fact that the innocent, hunted boy ran to save his life seen as a bad thing. Will the fact that the boy—a boy of courage who had saved his father’s life in the past, a future leader who could have been the next Obama and done things—ran away from his home, to not take the killer to his home and have the next day’s headline read instead Zimmerman kills Black Family of Four, Town Hero—be seen as a bad thing…And mark my words there is a clear connection between the dissatisfaction of certain members of society with the fact the we have our first Black President and the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, the quiet reapplication of the Fugitive Slave Act in the racial profiling of Stand Your Ground Stop and Frisk.
Because, as Zimmerman himself said, “those assholes always get away” and now they’ve gotten too uppity and its time to take them down a notch.
Only in America will the prosecution stumble and falter and deliberately, just barely, try the case the state didn’t want to get to the courtroom anyway, dumbing down the charge to just barely civil second degree murder tried by a jury of six white women and set free the killer free, again.
Do you follow me?
You are punishing this boy for defending himself, even though it wasn’t his fault. What would you have had him do? Stand there and let himself get shot?
Is this what you would have done? What you would have wanted your child to do?
Well, you may be thinking now, this would never happen to me. I am white, not black.
But what if you were, dear friend and neighbhor? Can you stretch your mind to imagine what if you were black but you still thought of yourself the same way as you do now—as a person worthy of life and taking up space and being able to walk from your house to the store without someone getting out of their car with a gun to run after you?
What would you have done—a child, in the rain alone being hunted down by a grown man with a gun? Is this not every child’s nightmare? The only thing worse is,as a woman, my fear if being raped in between.
If it had been yet another one of our daughter instead of yet another one of our sons, if Trayvon had been a black girl and Zimmerman had stopped to inflict sexual violence as well as his racially motivated hate crime murder—would this have changed anything?
If Trayvon had been white and Zimmerman black, if it had been a gigantic, armed black man who got out of his car with a loaded weapon to hunt down a white kid he felt should not be messing around on his turf…what, do you think would be happening—would not the black man, by now, have already imprisoned for life or sent to electric chair?
Zimmerman, who sits unrepentant, who sits saying he would do it again. And all the people who applaud, saying he was right, he should?
The vomit in my mouth.The fear that shakes my body.
Friend, I have a son. He is my life, my precious treasure. Now, when we walk throughout this country, throughout our town, you still stop to say how cute, how wonderful.
When is the point at which he will be too big and you will say you have the right to end his life because you were scared of him?
What about his fear—our fear—of you doing just exactly that?
Hope Wabuke, A Mother
Author’s Call to Action:
Thank you for reading this essay. This is a painful and difficult topic, painful and difficult to read and think about. We need to find a way out of this place and try to heal if possible, or the hate will only get worse. For me, what helped was writing and sharing with other people, shellshocked and in pain as I am. I have started a website at www.drivingwhenblack.com. I invite anyone who has anything to share in memory of this poor boy’s tragic murder and what it means for race in American by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with “I AM TRAYVON MARTIN” in the subject line. Maybe we can be the change we want to see in this world.
Also published in For Harriet 07/15/13.
List of further reading: