Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black child from Florida, was killed on February 26 by a 28-year old white man named George Zimmerman. The killer has not been arrested, and a lot of people in and outside of Florida are calling for his arrest. Many have spent days demanding, minimally, an investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death. Almost as many are seeking some sensible understanding of the laws in Florida, and states like it, which allow for a gun-carrying questionable character like Zimmerman to follow a child with a pocket filled with skittles, harass him, and kill him.
At this point, the US Dept. of Justice has opened an investigation into the case. The Martin family is struggling to find consolation and justice for their dead loved one. Newspapers are reporting on how bright and cheerful and smart the young man was.
Bloggers and journalists are providing details about the killer’s background. He likes calling the police to complain about black kids. He said, the day he called 911 to complain about Trayvon Martin, that “they always get away.” He was permitted to walk away after gunning down a child, with his 9 millimeter weapon. He was not detained or arrested or charged. Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman is free.
My wife asked me if I was planning to blog about the situation. I immediately said no. It didn’t take two seconds to respond. I didn’t want to think, much less write, about another kid getting killed. I had heard about the case, seen it on television. I tried to close my eyes to it because it was too much.
I didn’t want to think about Trayvon Martin or his family and how many tears they were shedding because their child was murdered by a guy who had hardly been questioned by the police after he was the last person to hear their child’s voice. That murderer heard the child screaming, yelling for help that never came.
I didn’t want to think or write about how that long destructive history that doesn’t release people with skin like mine but that creeps and creeps and creeps until it opens up its big mouth and screams out loud because nothing and no amount of “coverage” can hide how hard it is to be black, to be a man, to be a father, to be a son.
I didn’t want to think or write about that place in my inner soul that keeps memories locked away in my heart. Like the time a woman crossed the street when she saw me approaching her and like the shame I felt when I turned around after passing her only to see her cross back to the same street after I’d gotten beyond her and how downcast I felt because I was headed to a class in seminary where the story of my faith would remind me that I was called to love and serve people just like that woman who clutched her bag while passing a preacher on his way to being better. If I were in Florida studying theology at that time; if I were in Florida carrying my briefcase with a Bible and a text on salvation-history and pastoral ministry; if I were in Florida with an essay on the elements of pastoral case most effective for families in today’s time, I could have lost my life.
I didn’t want to think about how similar Trayvon Martin is to the vision I have for my son. He was a boy, enjoying life, getting good grades, collecting admiration from teachers; he was loved by his family, who over and over called the extremely deceptive police department when he had been missing for three days because his body was cooling on a medical examiner’s table and left like his parents didn’t want him when all they wanted was him. That young child was so much like my child, the child in my imagination’s future. He had a girl who liked him. He ate candy. He was wise in discerning when trouble showed up. He called for help.
I didn’t want to believe one more time that a young child, approaching early adulthood, could be treated so terribly and that hatred and evil—whether because of racism or bigotry or power or other foolish sins—could continue to be so bold. I didn’t want to think one more time that we had another example of criminal justice in the United States where the criminal was the only one who saw justice and when he saw it in the face of that sweet kid, he had to laugh in his blood-covered face.
I look at my son everyday. I say things to him, things that I know don’t make sense to most people if they’re listening to my words. Even Dawn laughs at the things I say. And if I’m honest, there’s a strong dose of this current reality behind my instructions to my son. His brain doesn’t get it when I’m just a bit too firm. His brain doesn’t get that there is no difference between his father and the last black man who was walking down a street and mistaken for some other black guy. Bryce’s mind doesn’t conceive that his daddy, the man who loves him, could be mistreated to the point of death for no other reason than he looked suspicious. But my son’s father knows these things. I know these things. And I don’t want to think them, talk of them, or admit them. The topics, taken together, form a gross compromise of morality and justice just to discuss them. And yet I have to raise my son with these words in his ears.
I don’t want to look at my child, who is not even able to stand up at the toilet yet, and witness the closeness between his lovely face and the loveliness of another parent’s son in Florida. The proximity between those two children is as long as a breath. And I am aching with a lot of people about the assassination of promise and hope and joy in Trayvon Martin and in every other black loved one he has now joined on the other side of death.
In a strange way, I knew Trayvon Martin’s future. In a strange way, I know the next son’s future. Whether or not he is the image of the child who lives in my house, he will be my child. And the worst fear in me these days is that I won’t be so gracious as the day I continued on to seminary class, that I won’t be loving when my next child, son or daughter, Florida or some other place, meets death in such a horrendous way. After all, there is no difference between my son and Trayvon Martin. And I don’t know if there is that much love in any world.