✱ Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Case

Even though I have strong feelings on the Trayvon Martin case, I’ve refrained from posting anything here on the subject. Not because I feel the readers won’t appreciate it (or disagree for that matter), but it’s not the typical subject matter usually seen here. But there’s some excellent writing on the subject, and subsequent fallout, and I figured I’d share a few good links and some of my thoughts.

My friend, Jamelle Bouie has a handful of cogent pieces he’s written this week. From his article Trayvon Martin, Blackness, and America’s Fear of Crime on The American Prospect:

“But what’s the big deal?”, you might ask. “Why can’t we use ‘black-on-black crime’ as a shorthand for these particular problems?” The answer isn’t difficult. Violent crime in hyper-segregated neighborhoods doesn’t happen because the residents are black. Their race isn’t incidental—the whole reason these neighborhoods exist is racial policymaking by white lawmakers—but there is nothing about blackness that makes violence more likely. Focusing on the “black” part of the equation takes this violence out of the realm of policy, and into the world of cultural ills.

And from his piece Why “Black-on-Black Crime” is a Dangerous Idea:

The only thing we accomplish by focusing on “black-on-black crime” as an independent phenomena—distinct from “white-on-white crime”—is justify universal suspicion of black men, and young black men, in particular. This is a problem. It’s absolutely true that “NYPD stats show that 96 percent of all shooting victims are black or Hispanic, and 97 percent of all shooters were black or Hispanic,” but it’s also true that the number of black and Latino offenders is a small fraction of all blacks and Latinos. But stop and frisk turns all blacks and all Latinos into potential offenders—it erases individual consideration and imposes collective suspicion.

Jamelle’s piece on The Daily Beast is also definitely worth a read.

The article that stuck with me most was Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s personal take on the matter published in New York Magazine. I connected with it deeply as I’ve experienced much of what he describes. Here’s an excerpt:

One night, I get in the elevator, and just as the door closes this beautiful woman gets on. Because of a pain in the arse card device you have to use to get to your floor, it just makes it an easier protocol for whoever is pressing floors to take everyone’s request, like when you are at the window of a drive-thru. So I press my floor number, and I ask her, “What floor, ma’am?” (Yes, I say “ma’am,” because … sigh, anyway.) She says nothing, stands in the corner. Mind you, I just discovered the Candy Crush app, so if anything, I’m the rude one because I’m more obsessed with winning this particular level than anything else. In my head I’m thinking, There’s no way I can be a threat to a woman this fine if I’m buried deep in this game — so surely she feels safe.

The humor comes in that I thought she was on my floor because she never acknowledged my floor request. (She was also bangin’, so inside I was like, “Dayuuuuuuuuuuum, she lives on my floor? bow chicka wowow!” Instantly I was on some “What dessert am I welcome-committee-ing her with?”) Anywho, the door opens, and I waited to let her off first because I am a gentleman. (Old me would’ve rushed first, thus not putting me in the position to have to follow her, God forbid if she, too, makes a left and it seems like I’m following her.) So door opens and I flirt, “Ladies first.” She says, “This is not my floor.” Then I assume she is missing her building card, so I pulled my card out to try to press her floor yet again. She says, “That’s okay.”

Then it hit me: “Oh God, she purposely held that information back.” The door closed. It was a “pie in the face” moment.

Regardless of what you feel about the case, there are a few reasons Martin’s story resonated with me so strongly. For one, I have a 14 year old son. A son that regularly walks on our suburban back roads to get to the convenience store. I don’t need to tell you how that’s deeply relevant. Another is because of the articles mentioned above. This case has reawakened the keen sense of who I am, and how some of the world — including some folks in my own neighborhood — view me and my family (I’ve mentioned on Twitter that I am literally the only African American adult in my development). It also hit me how sad this whole ordeal is. A young man lost his life with no one held responsible, and court case aside, there were a lot of systemic factors that went into making that happen. For what it’s worth, I think the jury came to the only logical conclusion. The problem lies in what makes that logical conclusion possible.