In Mississippi, a 14 year old black boy from Chicago was accused of whistling at a white woman. 3 days later, the woman’s husband and brother-in-law abducted the young man from the home of his great-uncle where he was visiting for the summer. Days later, the boy’s grotesquely distorted, beaten and mutilated body was found in a river with a 70 pound fan tied around the neck with barbed-wire. The two men tried for the crime were eventually acquitted, though later, protected by the legal statute of “double jeopardy”- admitted in an interview to killing the young man.
The year was 1955. The young man was Emmitt Louis Till.
A 17 year old black boy walked home from a neighborhood convenience store in a Florida gated-community. Spotted and followed for appearing “suspicious”, the young man was subsequently shot and killed by the neighborhood watch captain. The neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman claims he shot the boy in self-defense, though the boy had only a bag of skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman has neither been arrested nor formerly charged with any crime.
The year was 2012. The young man was Trayvon Martin.
Emmitt Till was neither the first black male to be gruesomely exterminated at the hands of racist white men and Trayvon Martin sadly may not be the last in a long line of black males senselessly murdered by police, hate groups, zealots and even each other! The problem as I see it lies in a deep-seated disregard for black male humanity. Reduced to a series of one-dimensional stereotypes, it becomes increasingly easy to devalue the worth of black male life. Coupled with gross imbalances in the legal system which systematically profiles black male identities, its as though it’s “Open Season” on black men. In recent years, several high-profile incidents involving the murder of unarmed black men at the hands of police [in particular] reveal a pattern of disregard by both law enforcement as well as the legal system. In the cases of Amadou Diallo (1999), Sean Bell (2006) and Oscar Grant (2009)all three men were unarmed when shot by police. In all three cases, the officers in question were acquitted on all charges.
How many more martyrs do we need? How many more innocent, unarmed, outnumbered, outgunned black men must die before we see the pattern of disregard for black male life? How many more of our sons must we bury before we say ‘ENOUGH’? How many more should die, be arrested, be accosted, be marginalized, be disregarded before we realize we have to prepare our young men’s minds to navigate this environment- not only safely, but triumphantly? How many Trayvon Martin’s could we save if we were to feed their minds properly? How many George Zimmerman’s can we stop when we combat the pervasive negative ideals of black males that dominate our collective consciousness?
Focusing all of our energy on George Zimmerman in this latest atrocity is a bit shortsighted. The man should be arrested, tried, imprisoned no doubt! But he is a symptom of a larger problem. Trayvon Martin’s death is a leaf on a huge tree that must be cut down from its roots. If we are not emboldened by this young man’s demise enough that we will combat this larger issue, we are no doubt destined to see another one (or three or a thousand) of our sons cut down in the streets sooner than we believe.
REST IN POWER Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Emmitt Till and the COUNTLESS other wrongfully murdered and lacking justice. May your legacy inspire, fuel and guide our struggle. ASHÉ
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