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Death of Trayvon Martin is 'My Greatest Fear for My Son'

“I am already teaching him how to act around police officers—and he’s only 8,” a college friend of mine told me.

I’m a smart, progressive, socially aware white woman, and I am ashamed of myself.

Last week I read a Facebook post that my college friend, Chuck, wrote, and I was ashamed that it never occurred to me what he has felt, and will feel, his entire life.

“I support Trayvon Martin. This is my wife's greatest fear for my son, Chas, when he becomes a teenager: being harassed by the police or rogue individuals. I am already teaching Chas how to act around police officers. I have personally been thrown in jail and handcuffed to a prison wall when I was driving a new car in a nice neighborhood. This happened to me when I was in college—an Ivy League school at that. I mean, what decade are we in anyway? This has got to stop! I am talking to all fathers out there. This tragedy can happen to me, my son, your son, anyone's son.”

In a general, intellectual sense I have always known about prejudice and racism, and I’ve understood that the kind of life approach Chuck wrote about is something many people of color have had to embrace out of necessity. Sure, we’ve all got our own personal stories—growing up as a Jewish girl, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I know first-hand about prejudice and the real outcome of the threat of hatred.

But rarely have I made that direct of a connection between such a tragic national story with race at the heart of it, as it did in the Trayvon Martin shooting, as I did in reading the words of my friend. Chuck took the self-portrait you see with this column as a means of standing in solidarity with the Martin family and in respectful, protesting memory of Trayvon’s death.

He also posted this image next to a shot of his own young son, Chas. However, drawing a line to protect some of their privacy, I decided to not include that image with this story in consultation with Chuck. But in seeing Chas’ smiling, sweet, little-boy face, it’s hard not to realize that Trayvon needs to be remembered as a child of mine, of yours and of the world.

What hit home the most is the idea that Chuck would need to teach his son—his beautiful, innocent, 8 year old son—how to speak to police officers so that it would give Chas the best chance of surviving that kind of encounter. An encounter with an officer of the law who Chas should look to for protection, not aggression based in racism. It’s a hard reality that shouldn’t have to be.

This issue of race is not particular to Florida, to Chuck, or to the African American community. The topic is one for discussion that must be embraced head-on because it is one of the largest issues—if not the single largest issue—affecting everything in this country, as it has for at least the last 150 years. Slavery, civil liberties, inequality, employment, education, crime, poverty, declining cities, health care, politics, you name it…race plays a factor in each.

Reading Chuck’s words, and reading all the accounts and fall-out news stories following the shooting of Trayvon’s by George Zimmerman one month ago, I reflected how we are certainly not immune to the effect of race and discrimination here at home.

There have been numerous recent cases alleging racism at play, such as in ; or in Darien, where statistics point to the probability that than what is proportional to the town population; or deep-seated racial tensions in East Haven that hit national news with a ; or even overall in Connecticut, where it was recently found that if stopped by a police officer in the state.

Of course it’s almost impossible not to find the continued presence of race in situations like this all over as well—in Mississippi, three white men pleaded guilty last week to federal hate crimes in the 2011 beating death of an African-American man; in New York City, an unarmed Black teen was shot by a police officer in February. The list could go on. It seems no one is immune to the insidiousness of racial hate and difference.

The Trayvon Martin killing seems to have shined a searing light, though, on the issue of race. Was it his youth? Was it the idea that at first glance this seemed like unprovoked, vigilante justice permitted by ill-conceived laws? Is it that there has been no arrest made for such a horrific incident, even one full month after it occurred?

Of course when President Obama weighed in last week, it gave the story appropriate attention. As the country’s first black president, his remarks that a son of his would have looked like Trayvon put an important context to the shooting. A president remarking on an important social issue helped underscore the kind of role this issue continues to play in our society.

I’ve seen many a Facebook post in the last couple of days pointing out the tragic irony of how there has been no arrest in Trayvon’s shooting, and yet the anti-fur protester who flour-bombed Kim Kardashian was arrested immediately after attacking her. There’s been continued outcry in popular media and the sports world drawing more heat and attention on Trayvon’s case` with the Miami Heat athletes among others posing in hoodies to memorialize the Florida teen and keep the national conversation going.

And just this past Monday, a march was planned for Sanford, FL in protest that no arrest had yet been made. A similar anti-violence rally was planned for this week in Bridgeport.

I talked with Chuck about what we were witnessing and what reaction he’d gotten to his post. He reflected on what it’s been like for him growing up, feeling like he’s bridged many worlds—white, black, affluent, educated (both Ivy League and master’s level) and million-dollar business owner.  And yet the Trayvon shooting reinforced that with a hoodie on, there are people that would only ever see “a brother in a hoodie from the streets.”

To Chuck, the biggest tragedy would be if this crime was not prosecuted. Even if Zimmerman, as is being claimed, feels remorse, there has been a crime. “This is but a single incident in the black experience,” he told me. “The mainstream, the people within the bell curve have to always make the ethical choice. When they don’t—when you let him go with the gun that killed that little boy, then you are communicating to me, to my son, that we are not valued. People are supposed to make the right decision. But they are not.”

He hopes, as do I, that with the mounting, continued outrage and outspoken attention Trayvon’s case is receiving that something will happen—in the Sanford, FL case and nationally. After all, as a recent CNN poll found, three out of four people feel that Zimmerman should be arrested for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps there's hope yet.

Despite that glimmer of hope, he said he still needs to be realistic. “I need to get my son past age 20 or 25. As a black male, if you can survive between now and 25, you’re safe. After 25, he’ll be outside the danger zone.”

I can’t imagine life in the danger zone. But we as a people need to learn how, at the least, to imagine it, especially if it isn’t our everyday experience, so that we can correct, fight against and change the prejudice — so that the Trayvons and the Chas-es of the world will no longer have to walk in fear.

Thomas Soukup March 28, 2012 at 01:40 PM
It's one thing for a young black kid to want to look like a gang-banger,stupid, but none the less not against the law. It's quite another to ACT-OUT in an illegal way where you take the chance of getting shot. What's missing in the story of Trayvon Martin are all the facts and what remains is the racial unrest this has caused.
Hermann Zwergel March 28, 2012 at 06:33 PM
ACT-OUT ? Like going to 7-11 for skettles and ice tea? Gang-banger studid, like having a sweatshirt with a hood when it raining??? Open your mind! Martin, a Miami native, was visiting his father in Sanford and watching the NBA All-Star game at a house in a gated Sanford community, the Retreat at Twin Lakes. At halftime, Martin walked out to the nearby 7-Eleven to get some Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. On his return trip, he drew the attention of Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood in a sport-utility vehicle and called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy." Read about how the NRA pushed for the right to pack heat anywhere in America. "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the dispatcher. "It's raining, and he's just walking around looking about." The man tried to explain where he was. "Now he's coming towards me. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male...Something's wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is...These assholes, they always get away." After discussing his location with the dispatcher, Zimmerman exclaimed, "Shit, he's running," and the following sounds suggest he left his vehicle to run after Martin.
Tom Falconieri March 29, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Read about how the NRA pushed for the right to pack heat anywhere in America. SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT!!!! The second amendment guarantees that and up held by the supreme court. What does it have to do with a shooting that has not so far been proven wrong???
sebastian dangerfield March 29, 2012 at 05:00 AM
idiots carry guns--thats what is wrong with that. wannabes like fake vets . posers who think they are tough guys the 2nd amendment is outdated. it should be thrown out. period. we dont need idiots walking around with guns --thats why we have police and a justice system....things that were lacking in 1783.
Thomas Soukup March 29, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Sebastian: You missed my point. I wasn't speaking about Martin in particular,but rather young kids who think it's cool to look like gang bangers. In my day it was black leather jackets ,pointed tip shoes, hair combed in a ducks-ass, chain belt and so on. Think "West Side Story" and you'll have the picture. When such dress depicts an evil element in our society, there is the risk that individual is looking for trouble and will most likely find it. Why so many kids want to emulate the bad guys I don't understand. I will not, however, favor one side of an issue or the other until all the fact are in. That I do believe is having an open mind!

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