We live in a nation that is terribly divided. A nation where some of its citizens are letting out cheers of joy because the shooter of a teenager walks free while others sheds tears of sadness because they feel that yet again our justice system has declared that while all men are created equal, all men are not regarded as such in the eyes of the law. Let me be clear, I feel no hate or ill will towards George Zimmerman. He is just another actor in this tragic play called America. I don't think he woke up in the morning looking to kill Trayvon on that fateful day, but I feel he was certainly responsible for the unnecessary death of a young man who was just trying to go home. In theory, when the gun toting George Zimmerman chose to get out of his car and "make sure the little punk didn't get away" instead of allowing the police to do their jobs, he then assumed responsibility for all that would follow. That's the way it should work, in theory, anyway.
Unfortunately, the jury and a large swath of America don't see it that way. As a black man what this judgment underscores isn't a lack of justice for Trayvon, but a deeper, scarier truth that I am not a man, but a suspect. This verdict says that if my mere presence as a black man is enough for you to feel threatened, and if you act from that place of fear your actions will be justified under the law and you will face no consequences if you turn out to be completely wrong and I end up completely dead.
The most difficult thing with this case is trying to explain to white people what it feels like to be a suspect every moment of your life. I'm sure every black male that has a story of when they were pulled over for driving while black, walking while black, or hell just breathing while black. I'll list just a few of mine:
I was 12 the first time I got randomly stopped by police and questioned because I was walking through Broadview (a white suburb of Chicago) on my way to my aunt's house in La Grange. After convincing them that I wasn't up to no good, they told me to hurry it along. When I was 14, I was a freshman on the football team at Proviso East High School which happened to be all black. After getting our asses kicked by Downers Grove South, we were walking to the bus to head back home. A few Downers Grove policemen pulled up, jumped out of their squad cars, hands on guns, and asked our white coach "Are you okay? Are these guys bothering you?" Even after he had assured them that the large black men WEARING FOOTBALL UNIFORMS were his team and that he was fine, they still asked him "Are you sure?" When I was 17 (same age as Trayvon) I was pulled over while biking to my father's house in Palos Hills. After explaining to the officers that I was coming from work (mind you I'm wearing my Burger King uniform and Burger King hat) and heading home, they commenced to tell me I was headed the wrong way and that the Trace (the subdivisions where the poor and middle class families lived) was that way. Giving him my best what the fuck are you talking about face, I told him "My father doesn't live in the Trace."
I could go on and on with these stories, like the time my white friends got a DWBIPS that's driving with blacks in the passenger seat or the time I almost got shot by police for having the audacity to be standing outside of the apartment building I manage, but that would be like shooting a dead horse carry a bag of skittles.
I know what some of you are thinking, "This is different, this kid got kicked out of school for having marijuana and fighting. You went to Northwestern, there's no way you would end up like that." To that I say, google Robert Russ. Robert was a year ahead of me at Northwestern and was so easy going he was given the nickname “Fluff”. Now mind you he played defensive line so he was a BIG dude, a big BLACK dude. One night, just a few days before he was supposed to walk across the stage and get his diploma from a top 15 university, Fluff was shot and killed by police. The officer claimed self-defense, saying Fluff reached for the officer's gun and was cleared by the department. REALLY?!? An honors student AT NORTHWESTERN reached for an officer's gun. REALLY? Luckily for Fluff's family, the jury in the civil trial saw through that horse shit and gave them a sizable judgment. Though they may have felt a small bit of vindication, the fact is no amount of money his daughter, girlfriend, and mother received, is going to bring back Fluff.
The scary part is that I know there is no way for the police or any overzealous vigilante to know who I am or what I've done while I'm walking down the street. They wouldn't know that I've opened up for The President in front of forty thousand people or that I was the only man who spoke on a Ladies Night fundraiser with The First Lady and Jill Biden. They wouldn’t know that I graduated from Northwestern, or that I built a robot to win my 8th grade science fair. They wouldn't know that I've raised money for the arts and the environment, that I've tutored young people and taught at one of the worst schools in Chicago. All they would know (which is the same thing that George Zimmerman knew about Trayvon) is that I am a black male, which in turn makes me a suspect, and you will receive no penalty for treating me as such.
11:26 PM PT: Rec list! Thank you Kos Nation. I posted this on my face book page and its been eye opening to hear some of the stories of fellow black men who have their own DWB tales or rituals they use to stay safe.