My wife asked me why I was so quiet. Why I hadn’t said anything. She was asking me about Trayvon Martin. I hadn’t said a word. Yet.
What is there to say? What could I say that hasn’t already been said? That I’m not surprised? Saddened, but not surprised. That even in 2012 I still have my own moments of second glances and sideways looks, of hastily locked car doors and clutched purses? Should I say that I spend my days terrified of what might become of the other Black male in my house—my 12-year-old son? That I lay awake many a night praying that I can protect him from and prepare him for the world outside my door?
What should I say?
Maybe I should talk about the abject disgust I have that the child on the ground in a puddle of his own blood was treated worse than the man who shot him. That the dead child is treated like a criminal while the assailant sleeps in a warm bed. Should I scream in rage that the word of the shooter was taken over the evidence of a child murdered—in a day and age where there are 3 CSIs, 2 Law & Orders, Crime 360, and the First 48 on TV every week? Perhaps I should drum my chest, pound the table, yell until I’ve lost my voice about the insanity of the crime itself. A gun-wielding Neighborhood Watchman kills a kid over Skittles and Iced Tea?
It could be the sadness, the grief, that has struck me silent. Pain in my chest becomes sobs in my throat as I wade through photos with Am I Next? captions—full of young boys, still innocent, some young enough to hang on their mother’s hip, some unborn. I’ve seen hundreds of images of people of all shapes and sizes and colors and races wearing hoodies with captions that read, “I am Trayvon.” And it makes me sad.
The president said it struck him close to home, that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon.” The man who wants to be president, Newt Gringrich, says such remarks are divisive, that all children should be safe. They’re both right in their own way. All children should be safe. They should be, no question. But the truth is Trayvon Martin is simply the latest casualty in a war on Black males that’s been waged since the dawn of this nation. The only thing new here is the name, date and place. We’ve been here before with Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and Rodney King. Sean Bell. Oscar Grant. Aiyanna Jones. Emmett Till.
Now Trayvon Martin.
I’m sad that it has happened again. That another mother has to bury her child. I’m sad that, for one finite news cycle, America will take a cold, hard look in the mirror—and at her president—and realize how far we have come and how far we still have to go. And I’m sad because I know how this ends…and because I know that it really doesn’t end. Our collective horror and disgust will fuel a palpable rage, a mighty beast hungry for justice. And that beast will rally and march and post and tweet and YouTube and yell and scream for atonement. Justice will be served: revenge will be delivered in the courts or in the streets and the beast will be satiated. And we will move on, move forward in the silent détente that is race relations in America.
There is a price for silence, I guess. For some, “silence means consent.” Keeping quiet means you agree. I don’t. Even if it doesn’t advance the cause, even if my words only add to the outrage, the horror, the disgust, joining my voice to the chorus is still matters. Even if, in a few weeks or months, Trayvon Martin becomes another painful memory, another tragic occurrence, it matters. Our collective outrage can turn an inhumane act into a human experience. It took this quote, made by a pastor during the Holocaust, for me to understand that:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.