February 26, 2012 – Sanford, Florida
It’s a rainy evening. This weather always brings out the worst in people.
Trayvon Martin walks along the street, snacks purchased from a nearby convenience store in tow. One hand in his pocket, the other is holding his cell phone connecting him to his girlfriend. His hood is up, a protective shield against the drops.
There is a man ‘neighbourhood watch’-ing in the shadows. Patrolling the streets in his sports utility vehicle, George Zimmerman spots his target. This boy is up to something: he’s eyeing houses as he walks past them, perhaps too closely.
Without delay George takes out his cell phone. He dials the number and awaits my voice on the other end.
9-1-1, what’s your emergency?
George informs me someone suspicious is wandering around the townhouses. “This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something.” A dispatcher will be there shortly I tell him, do not approach. I can hear a car door opening. Sir, please let the police handle this. I tell him again not to go near the suspicious character.
He does anyways.
He gets out of his car and starts to advance. Where did the young hoodlum go? George turns to walk back. The young man attacks. They fight. George is punched in the nose. His head is slammed against the ground.
A gun turns fight into fatality. One man lies motionless on the pavement, the other towers over him. He was seventeen years old, wearing a hoodie. He was Black. And then, he was dead.
This is the story George recalls to the police. Trayvon will not have the chance to share his.
9-1-1, what’s your emergency?
I am told a young man has been fatally shot in a gated townhouse community. The address sounds familiar. He had a gun and took matters into his own hands. I answer hundreds of emergency calls every week. I always wonder if I could do more. I did my job; I dispatched a cruiser; was that good enough?
The boy was Black. Was that his downfall? A Black youth walking along the streets immediately garners suspicion.
George wants to defend his territory; Trayvon wants to get back to his younger brother. Words were exchanged before the gun shot ensured silence, but what they were no one will ever truly know. George saw Trayvon as a threat, or so he alluded to in his police interview. Only one man was walking away from that fight alive, George knew he was going to be that man.
Fist hits face, but bullet pierces the skin. It wasn’t a fair fight, but why was there a fight to begin with? Some people look for conflict, while others avoid confrontation.
Did Trayvon actually attack George, provoke him, threaten to kill him as George claims?
George is half WHITE, Trayvon is Black. George still has not been arrested for his crime, the “stand your ground law” has given him the opportunity to plead self-defense; because he was protecting himself from a boy armed with Skittles and iced tea?
George is a volunteer in the Neighbourhood Watch program. He’s there to protect the members in his gated townhouse community, not shoot them. Trayvon’s stepmother-to-be lives in one of these houses, that’s where he was headed when his life was taken.
A boy shot down because he looked like a criminal. What does a criminal really look like? I never received that memo; did it include race, gender and dress code?
This society has become a place where people act before thinking of the consequences. But George probably knew he would be able to claim self-defense. We live in a world where killing someone over difference is a better solution than accepting diversity. So certain of our own knowledge we refuse to admit there could be other truths.
Our ignorance has resulted in the death of a seventeen year-old boy. There is blood on all of our hands.