My uncle Calvin
In 1955 my uncle Calvin was shot and killed by a white man. He was unarmed and standing a few feet away from his assailant. The crime was witnessed by several black men, including my father and older brother Lawrence. A trial, of sorts, was held. The assailant alleged self-defense, despite testimony from several eyewitnesses who said Calvin was not aggressive toward the assailant and turned toward him only after being ordered to, and despite the sheer absurdity of the idea of Calvin menacing someone holding a gun on him.
Apparently the self-serving statements of a white man out-weighed logic and black eyewitnesses. Variations of this scenario have played out in black communities throughout the country. It is through this prism, shaped by life experiences, that many in the black community viewed the Zimmerman verdict. The nuances of self-defense and ill-advised laws like stand your ground are over powered by one powerful fact. An unarmed black youth en route home from a store was followed and subsequently encountered by an armed white adult and ended up dead. Older black adults, although usually more subdued, likely feel a deeper sense of futility and frustration. This is because their experiences were lived, not anecdotal. That feeling of though a black man occupies the highest office in the land, something they never dared to hope to witness, you are still valued differently than white America.
If my dad was still alive I wonder what he would make of all this. Would he see some striking similarities to Calvin’s death? Would he feel the deep hurt being evidenced in black communities throughout the country? Calvin’s death propelled our move to California to a better life and more opportunities. Maybe, just maybe, Trayvon’s death can propel all of us to a better place, a better country…maybe.
JUST RETURNED home from a family reunion in Jackson, MS. We finished the banquet just minutes before the Zimmerman verdict came in. The emcee at the banquet asked for comments prior to closing. I didn’t say anything, but I should have. I should have tried to prepare the family for a verdict that may be upsetting to them for several reasons. First, I felt we had been outlawyered, just as we were in an appalling number of high profile cases. Think back for a minute: Delorean, O.J., Robert Blake, Phil Spector, Casey Anthony and the cops in the Rodney King beating. There are reasons for this, but that’s another discussion. More to the point at hand, I should have urged them to have a serious discussion with their black children. Things like illuminating the interior of their vehicles if pulled over by the police at night. This gives the approaching police officer an advantage, thereby lowering anxiety and promoting a more positive outcome. They also have to realize that there are far too many “Zimmermans” out there. We have to develop strategies to ease tensions during encounters with them as well.
The difficult part about this discussion is that our young people feel that they should not have to. And, they are right! But in the short term, we need to think survival and use this incident to galvanize us into political activism and not just on the national level. While we were busy posting on Facebook and Tweeting on mundane matters, a lot of dangerous and repressive laws were passed on the state and local levels. The “stand your ground” law leads the pack. Until these laws are challenged and overturned and they must be, we should use every available stratagem available to protect our children.
I didn’t say anything Saturday night, but black parents must…but they should not have to!
(image: trayvon martin via eonline)