Thoughts on Trayvon Martin (April 12, 2012)

I originally wrote this in April, 2012, as a meditation for a class in seminary on the essential writings of Dr. Howard Thurman.  With the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin just about to start, I thought I would post it here.

“I still believe that a person should apologize when they are actually remorseful for what they have done.  I still believe it was an accident….  I would ask him, that I understand his family is hurting, but think about our family who lost our teenage son.  It’s very difficult to live with day in and day out.  I’m sure his parents can pick up the phone and call him but we can’t pick up the phone and call Trayvon anymore.”

Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Today Show, April 12, 2012

Stephon Watts.  Trayvon Martin.  Ramarley Graham.  Wendell Allen.  Dante Price.  Bo Morrison.  Rekia Boyd.  Kendrec McDade.

All young Black men and women.  Shot to death in February and March of this year (2012), in this nation.  Just two months.  Shot by police officers, on duty and off.  Or by security patrolmen.  Or by someone so-called defending their home/neighborhood/property.

Stephon Watts.  Trayvon Martin.  Ramarley Graham.  Wendell Allen.  Dante Price.  Bo Morrison.  Rekia Boyd.  Kendrec McDade.

The shooting of Trayvon Martin has prompted national outrage; all of these tragic, untimely deaths should have.

More than national outrage, this moment (that keeps repeating itself, decade after long decade; century after long century) must prompt personal and community introspection.  If Sabrina Fulton can find the grace in the midst of her fresh grief and anger to consider the hurt of George Zimmerman’s parents, then it is the very least we can do – I can do – to see parts of ourselves in all these people whose lives have changed irrevocably.

For me, it is too easy to only add my voice to the crowds of well-meaning people who shout, “I am Trayvon!”  For me, it is too easy to only see myself in Sabrina Fulton or Tracey Martin, the parents’ unthinkable nightmare of a dead child in their arms.

It is too easy because my white skin affords me the privilege of sending my white-skinned son to the grocery store, knowing most likely he will come back safe and sound, even if he wears his hoodie, which he does with some frequency.  I am not Trayvon and neither is my son.  What safety has come to my son, to me, to our family, that has been accorded us and not others, solely because of skin color, because of class?

It is so easy to embrace Trayvon.  It is so hard to embrace George Zimmerman.  Who wants to do that?  Trayvon was never my enemy.  But if there’s going to be an enemy, then it’s got to be George Zimmerman.  It is so easy to see him at that distance because of what he has done.

Yet I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that it is easy to see him at that distance because he reminds me – reminds all of us — what is possible within ourselves.  Do I think I would ever roam the streets of my neighborhood, gun in hand? Much less use such a weapon?  No.  But I have felt the fear of The Other.   It is not just once my steps have quickened at the sight of young men of color, hoodies up or no; it is not just once I have seen skin color before I could perceive whole humanity.  I offer this awkwardly, with embarrassment, knowing it is true.

Of all people, Trayvon’s mother remembers that George Zimmerman is someone’s son.  Of all people, Trayvon’s mother knows he and his family are still very much a part of humanity, of God’s children. Perhaps she knows what Reverend Dr. Howard Thurman reminds us, “Yet you must find a way to love your enemy if you want to be whole; not if you want to redeem your enemy, but because you want to be whole.  A part of you is caught in the deed which he had done and you must get your out of it to restore wholeness to yourself.” If she can do it, then we must.

Even with the loss of their murdered son, may Trayvon’s family stay whole.  Even with the failure of the local authorities to arrest George Zimmerman immediately, let our community and nation stay whole.  Even as he has taken a life, may George Zimmerman find wholeness in offering the sincere apology Trayvon’s parents so deeply deserve and in accepting full accountability for his actions which brought about the death of an unarmed, innocent human being.  May we all find, even in the midst of our recognizing ourselves in the acts of the innocent and in the acts of the guilty, that we are of each other and that we are whole.