Why the Trayvon Martin case is important to me


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My parents went through a bitter divorce when I reached the age of twelve years.  At that time, we lived in a beautiful Victorian house, my father earned a six figure salary and he even owned a Corvette.  When he moved out–and the divorce was final–my mother decided to provide her three children with better access to education.  She decided to sell our Victorian house for a house in the suburbs.  So, on August 15, 1984 we found ourselves living in the suburbs of Lincoln, Rhode Island.  My first impression was mind blowing.  As we were driving down Carriage Drive in the back seat of our old 1975 Chevelle my brother, sister and myself were struck at how big the houses were.  I tapped my mother on the shoulder and simply asked, “Mom, are we going to live here?”  She just smiled and said, “…just wait until you see your new house”.  Just as soon as the words came out of her mouth she made a right turn on Wagon Wheel Lane.  As we made the decent down the steep road the houses became smaller and smaller, and she made a left turn.  We finally arrived.  We jumped out of the car, ran around the yard and followed my mother to the front door.  Our new house wasn’t as nice as our old one, but there was a hawk swing in the back yard.  Words could not convey the joy I had.  

The next morning I decided to get on my bicycle and ride around the neighborhood.  It was a humid summer morning, and my eyes were fixed on the mist coming from the lake.  It was just beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that I felt compelled to drop my bike down and walk over to the lake.  However, before I could soak in what Mother Nature had to offer me I heard a car pull up.  It was a police car.  At that time I had no reason to fear the police.  They are here “to serve and protect”.  I walked up to the police car with a smile on my face.  However, I was surprised to see that the police officer wasn’t sharing my happiness.

“What are you doing here boy”, he said

“I’m looking at the lake, sir”

“Where did you come from?”, he added

“my house”, I said

The police officer just laughed.  “No, really.  Where did you come from?

I tried to tell him at least three more times that I lived in the neighborhood.  He went on to ask me several more questions.  I was able to tell him that I lived on Wagon Wheel Lane, however.  So, he put my bike in the trunk of his car and gave me a ride home.  The ride down the long and steep hill was different this time around.  This time I was able to see the people stepping out of their homes looking at the young man in the back of a police cruiser.  All the white people.  All the white people.  Then it hit me.  I was black.  This wasn’t the first time I would have a run-in with the Lincoln Police.

I felt the need to share this story because of an article that Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote.  He wrote a column titled “

Under ‘suspicion’: The killing of Trayvon Martin

He started off that article with,  “One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions.”  He also went on to list the things that his mother told him not to do.  For example, he was told to “never run in public” because it would make you look like your guilty.

I had my own list of things to follow.

I would never take a short-cut through a neighbors yard.  Even if all the kids were doing it–I wouldn’t.  When I walk into a store I never put my hands in my pockets, and if the store didn’t have what I needed I would buy anything just so I wouldn’t leave the store empty-handed.  I tried to follow the obvious rules of not carrying drugs or weapons on me, but I would make sure I wasn’t wearing expensive jewelry.  I tried the best I could to not walk the streets at night.  I made sure to show up at least 15 minutes early to work.  I volunteered to stay late or come in when called.  I didn’t use swear words.  I didn’t talk back to my teachers.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t escape the fact that I was black.

The main reason why I can’t stand talking about race relations in America is because too many people feel the need to imply that what my experience, or what the experience of other blacks are just imagined. It’s not my imagination when I’m walking down the street someone crosses the street in an effort to get away from me.  It’s not my imagination when someone calls me a nigger, coon, jungle bunny, mud duck, tar baby–all of these names at the age of 13 years old.  All of these names in High School.  In a place where children are supposed to learn.

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old kid who just left the 7 Eleven with a packet of Skittles in one hand and a bottle of iced tea in the other.  As he was making his way home he was followed by George Zimmerman who was carrying a loaded, concealed weapon and communicating with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.  He made it known that Trayvon “was up to no good, looked like he was on drugs” and “these coons, they always get away with it”  When the dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following him, Zimmerman said yes.  The dispatcher told him not to.  But Zimmerman continued to.  He hunted Trayvon down, and as Trayvon can be heard on the 9-1-1 tapes screaming for help–he was shot dead.  It was at that moment that he knew.  He was black.

So, why is this story so important to me?  When I look at his picture I see myself.  I see a young kid with goals, dreams and aspirations.  I see a young boy who dreams about getting the cute girl.  I see a young boy who’s thinking about who he wants to ask out to the prom.  I see a young boy who has his whole future wide open as the highway is long.  He’s dead now.

I’ll be forty-years old soon.  The question that I get asked the most is why I don’t have any kids.  I usually give one of my three prepared answers.  “It’s not the time”, “I haven’t found the right woman” and “Why have kids when I can buy cars”.  I say these things because I’m afraid to say what I really feel.  The real reason why I don’t want any kids is because I don’t want my child to go through what I went through.  I don’t want them to live by a set of rules, and I most certainly don’t want them dead at the hands of an over-zealot piece of shit that is full of hatred towards people of color who is shielded with protection at the hands of the Sanford Police.  All I know is that if it was a black guy that shot a white guy he would have been arrested already.  In their minds it’s just another nigger, mud duck, coon, tar baby, jungle bunny dead.  There’s no other way to put it, and that is what pisses me off with the people in this World. I had all the advantages in life, but I’m one small step to death. We all are.

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4 thoughts on “Why the Trayvon Martin case is important to me

  1. Great post Orlando! I had an experience when I was young and the father of my friend found out I was Jewish. The Mom would hide me under the bed if he came home while I was there playing. Until he found out I was Jewsih he use to take us to the movies and to the park. It isn’t as bad as yours but I do understand. The Trayvon case is so upsetting in so many ways. Heartbreaking. Oh by the way my Dad went around the block to the house where my friends lived when he found out that I had to hide under the bed and beat the shit out of the guy 😉 Dru

  2. Lovely, heartfelt post. I’m white, but I also live in a weird southern town where the first question asked is “what church do you go to?” and if you don’t have a ready, “reasonable” answer, the eyes of the asker go dark and suspicious. This is a minor suspicion, but I understand nonetheless.

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