By now, everyone has surely heard about Trayvon Martin, the 140lb. 17-year-old who was shot and killed as he walked through the gated community of a relative he was visiting in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman - the 240lb. neighborhood watchman who said he began following the teen from his SUV because of his "suspicious behavior" - was the gunman, but although Trayvon was armed only with a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea, Zimmerman claims he shot Trayvon in self-defense. Under the state's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law (which says anyone who feels threatened with eminent danger in a public place can use deadly force to end the confrontation), Zimmerman has not been arrested and charged with Trayvon's murder. And that has a whole lot of people outraged and upset.
Many of us are wondering how a big burley dude with a 9mm handgun could feel threatened by a teen he is chasing (according to the 911 tapes, Zimmerman got out of his car and chased Trayvon on foot before the shooting). What made the Black teenager seem so suspicious? Did he look out of place in the community of nice town homes and freshly manicured lawns? Or was it the hooded sweatshirt Trayvon wore as he walked from the store in the night rain? Was it that he ran from a guy who was following him or did the shinny can of tea look like a weapon? Since Zimmerman isn't saying much other than it was self-defense (he hasn't even really been thoroughly interrogated by the police), no one but Zimmerman knows for sure. To this mom of a teen who looks an awful lot like Trayvon, those are the questions that I wish were answered.
Every martial arts self-defense seminar I've ever been to has said that awareness is the very first rule of thumb. Zimmerman has said he was aware that this kid might have been up to no good simply because there had been a rash of break-ins around the neighborhood. We know he was way, way off base about that, but at the time, his "spidery senses" we're tingling. What the seminars I've been to all hint at is that being aware - especially in that hyper-vigilant sort of way - is only the very beginning of the story. How you process that awareness and determine if what you are aware of is cause for concern must come next. What follows that should be avoidance (or de-escalation if avoidance isn't an option), but it appears Zimmerman missed that part of the neighborhood watch training.
Please don't tell me how "going with your gut" is often necessary when sizing up particular potential dangers. I know that - still someone's son and brother is dead because another someone's gut was flat out wrong. All Black boys in hoodies aren't menacing creatures searching for prey is all I'm saying - and we all have an obligation to stop believing the hype and buying into that crap. There has to be a way to not lump every person/place/thing unlike you into a big ol' "suspicious" pile, there just has to be. Of course I hope my 18-yr-old son is never pegged as suspicious because he happens to look or sound different than the others who normally inhabit a space, but he just might be someday. And it makes me very angry that all I can do is hope he is never where some crazy fool with a weapon and an excuse doesn't think he should be.
But I also hope we figure out how to end this stupidity soon - before another person is killed out of fear, racial profiling or blatent stereotyping. I think we owe it to the memory of the teen who was pegged as suspicious just because he looked like he didn't belong.
Rest in peace, Trayvon.