I read this article yesterday while I was at brunch.(Ha-ha, white girl on the North Side of Chicago out to brunch, reading about Trayvon Martin. GET OVER IT.)
And I got to thinking: America’s kind of an awful place. I’m so disheartened sometimes that I don’t even know what to say.
The 911 calls began at least eight years ago, with Mr. Zimmerman reporting on a range of non-emergencies, including the existence of potholes or someone driving slowly through the neighborhood. By late 2011, his calls were often about black youths and men, with complaints about suspicious activity or just loitering.
By the time he went on neighborhood watch patrol with his 9-millimeter pistol and spied Trayvon Martin, Mr. Zimmerman saw not a teenager with candy, but a collection of preconceptions: the black as burglar, the black as drug addict, the black “up to no good.” And he was determined not to let this one get away.
As recently as a few years ago, this case probably would not have been noticed outside Florida, which has a long and bloody history of sacrificing black lives without consequence. The country is right to focus on this case and to look for ways to prevent it from happening again.
People who are seeking to affix blame for this tragic death do need to bear one thing in mind. Gun laws that allowed a community watch volunteer to run around armed are, of course, partly responsible. But Trayvon Martin was killed by a very old idea that will likely take generations and an enormous cultural transformation to dislodge.
My family had season tickets to Kansas City Chiefs games when I was a kid. My most vivid memories of those games have nothing to do with Arrowhead Stadium; they’re of crossing Troost Avenue on 63rd Street in my grandparents’ Mercedes-Benz and watching my grandparents’ hands fly to the automatic-lock buttons. They’re of counting the number of tree-shaped air fresheners hanging from passing cars’ rearview mirrors.
Troost was our arbitrary dividing line between Kansas City’s racial no-man’s land and what I’m sure we so lovingly referred to at some point as “the ghetto.” (Which is hilarious in that completely horrifying, not-funny-at-all way now, because I don’t think I’ve come within miles of the real ghetto in Kansas City, if it even exists.)
We passed through, hopped on the highway and made our way to Arrowhead’s parking lot, locked safely behind the parking attendant’s stations, where we tailgated and then watched the game wrapped in blankets, cheering for our team and doing the tomahawk chop.
What do these memories say about me? Have these experiences shaped who I am?
Maybe in some way. But how? I read articles like the one from the Times’ Sunday Review today, and I’m ashamed because I know the author is speaking directly to people like me. I’m not racist — never. ever. EVER. — but I know I hang on to some prejudices that will be tough to shake off.
Am I part of the problem?
I didn’t hear about Trayvon Martin until days after he was shot. I read about it on Twitter and didn’t understand why it was such a big deal; I was busy being enraged about yet another fat white man in Congress trying to take away all women’s hard-fought reproductive rights. Then I read more about it. Then, it was another few days before I saw anything about it on television. Finally, a month and a half after he was shot, George Zimmerman — who’s a year younger than me, who owns a gun and thinks he can play policeman, judge, jury and God himself — was charged with second-degree murder and taken into custody. A MONTH AND A HALF LATER.
What does that say? Really. If the situation had been reversed — if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman or anyone else, for that matter — he would’ve been locked up in the blink of an eye. I’m sure of it.
How… What. I don’t know. I don't know anything.
I don’t know whether Martin was shot out of racist hatred or singled out by Zimmerman’s prejudices and caught in the crossfire of self-defense. I don’t know what happened in Sanford that night. Until they release all those 911 tapes, the autopsy report and call every possible witness from both sides, no one will know exactly what happened except for George Zimmerman. Even then, it’ll be a neighborhood watchman’s word against a dead hoodie-wearing black boy’s. Does it really matter whether it was racism or prejudice that led to this kid's death? Because he's still dead.
I picture the outcome of this case being utter horseshit. Nothing good can come of this. This will not be a “teachable moment.” Sometimes I think we’re beyond teaching. Like it will never, ever get better. And that makes me want to throw things. Or curl up in a ball and cry. Neither would make me feel better, I’m guessing. And logic has obviously worn out its welcome.
If you’re reading about the Trayvon Martin case, trying to make sense of anything at all in this ridiculous media circus, do yourself a favor: Don’t read the comments. Ever. Whether you’re reading a blog entry or an article on Fox Nation or MSNBC, just do yourself a favor and skip the comments section. Just walk away. People are horrible and hateful and violent with their words.
Is there a way to start calling people on their racist, ignorant fuckery, beyond posting to our own Facebook feeds and trolling comment sections to lob holier-than-thou word bombs into the ether? Would there be a point beyond making us feel better about ourselves, proving to the Internet we’re above it?
I don’t know. But that’s the kind of “Stand Your Ground” I can get behind.