Just when you thought it couldn’t get any harder to be Black in America, six women in Florida made it hard for a young Black man to walk down the street. I write today as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. I share many of the concerns posted by many of you on Facebook and Twitter. I am simply undone by what appears to be a miscarriage of justice. But, I am also RESOLVED to do whatever I can to make sure that there are no more senseless murders of children–especially young Black men–in America.
Let’s begin in prayer and solidarity with Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. The fact remains they lost their son a second time last night. To see that the man who murdered your only child walks away ‘with no other business with this court’ must have been at least as painful as hearing the news that Trayvon had been shot and killed. Join me in expressing sympathy for The Martin family by posting your condolences to Sybrina’s Twitter account here and Tracy’s Twitter account here.
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.” ― Thurgood Marshall
Second, after expressions of sympathy, please join in the following efforts to pursue some measure of justice for Trayvon.
First, I was going to ask you all to sign the NAACP petition calling for the Justice Department to pursue civil rights charges against George Zimmerman—but it appears as if the petition is no longer live on the MoveOn.Org website. A civil rights investigation remains a viable option for holding George Zimmerman responsible for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The petition says:
“The Department of Justice has closely monitored the State of Florida’s prosecution of the case against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder since it began. Today, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it is time for the Department of Justice to act.
The most fundamental of civil rights—the right to life—was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin. We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation.
Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today. Thank you.”
As soon as the petition is live again, I will post the link. Be looking out for it!
Second, join in or create an effort in your own communities and states to overturn ALL stand your ground laws. Florida is one of 16 states that have stand your ground laws on the books. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Utah also have stand your ground laws. How is possible that George Zimmerman is set free for murdering Trayvon Martin, but Marissa Alexander, a sister who was a VICTIM of domestic violence, shoots a gun in the ceiling to deter her attacker, harming NO ONE is given a 20-year sentence? These laws are flawed and until they can be fairly applied, they should not exist. Would it surprise you to know that some pretty powerful and scary people and corporations are big supporters of stand your ground laws? Join in any effort to overturn these racially prejudicial and deeply flawed laws.
“We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.”―Fred Hampton
Finally, become active participants in OUR democracy. Verdicts like this happen because we do not register to vote, so are not a part of potential jury pools. Verdicts like this happen because prosecutors do not feel safe in representing our issues. Why? Because we are often not a prominent and consistent constituency. Sure, we turned out in big numbers to vote for President Obama, but did we vote in large numbers in our city council election? Did we turn out to vote for the Sheriff and Prosecutor? Until we SHOW UP as a viable constituency that is holding elected officials accountable for their treatment of people of color, we should expect ongoing assaults to our civil liberties. Does your local Sheriff and prosecutor KNOW that if they don’t arrest white perpetrators of crimes and seek prosecution of them to fullest extent of the law that they could lose their jobs in the next election? Have we made them AFRAID to racially profile us and unevenly apply the rules of the law when it comes to victims and defendants of color? I don’t mean riots and looting and other bad actions. I mean showing our strength in the voting booth and in commerce by buying from companies that have real diversity programs in place and treat people of color and poor people fairly.
Sisters, now is not the time to retreat! Now is the time to have more than a conversation about how awful the verdict was. NOW IS THE TIME BEGIN ACTING ON YOUR CONCERNS AND CHANGE THE SITUATION. Stop shaking your head and tsk-tsking in the comfort and privacy of your own home! Stop saying ‘somebody ought to do something’ and DO SOMETHING. It is not enough to like or share a post on Facebook. WE. MUST. DO. MORE.
We have a history in this country that shows when we come together we can change things. The civil rights movement wasn’t a movie. Those things really happened. And because we have been lulled into some weird kind of sleep, the same civil rights that so many Brothers and Sisters fought for are being systematically rolled back. Do you even know the details about the Supreme Court decision that rolls back key provisions in the Voting Rights Act? No? But how many of you can tell me details about some fake reality show star? WAKE UP!
The fact remains that it is hard being Black in America and Sisters we must do something about it!
Being Black in America means that you cannot expect that justice will be served if you come into contact with the legal system. Think Sharanda Jones, Marissa Alexander and Kiera Wilmot. And if by chance you think these three sisters are isolated cases of the justice system gone wrong, read a powerful book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by an awesome sister Michelle Alexander, for a detailed review of how the justice system has been rigged against people of color!
Being Black in America means that if you are the mother to a Black son you KNOW that at some point you have to explain to your sweet little boy that here in America, because he is Black, he will be held to a higher standard of behavior. I was both sad and angry the first time I had to explain to my son why he was sent to detention for misbehaving in class when his white friend and partner in ‘crime’ (one he had known since they were 2 or 3 years old) was not even given a stern talking to by the principal. Of course I protested when I found out all the details and my son only served that one time in detention, but how many Sisters can take time off from work to go to the school to be an advocate for their sons? How many Sisters know to call into question the school disciplinary policies that are often unfairly applied to our sons?
Being Black in America means we must stand together or be victimized when we stand apart. How is possible that every day 14 young Brothers are murdered every day by guns, often by other young Brothers, and we are not marching in the streets of our communities? We need to begin in our own communities! Take back our streets from the young Brothers that are lost and lashing out by killing each other. Make our schools better, so they have an education to open doors of opportunity out of poverty. Make sure that our young Sisters don’t become pregnant long before they are emotionally and financially able to care for a child. Make sure that marriage and deep commitments to relationships of all kinds–romantic and otherwise–are what they see in us–the elders–so they have something to emulate. Make sure that young Brothers and Sisters learn that taking care of yourself and your family is what makes you a hero. Not shooting a music video or dunking a basketball. Make sure that you GIVE BACK because even if you grew up in a middle class family, in all likelihood someone helped you and that means you have an obligation to help other along their life journey.
Being Black in America means that we don’t have the luxury of waiting for someone else or some other group of people to come to our aid. It means we have to OWN our struggle and WORK to dismantle ALL of the remnants of racism that remain in America. I was BORN here, my ancestors played CRITICAL roles in building this country and I will be part of the SOLUTIONS that unite OUR country. We must not let Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin bear this burden alone. We MUST honor Trayvon’s memory by working for justice for him and ALL of the children and youth senselessly murdered every day in America. America IS better than this and it is up to us to help America rise to the occasion and become the America that we talk about in the pledge of allegiance:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.”