Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Am I Supposed To Tell My Kids?

I've resisted writing about the Trayvon Martin case. Not because I didn't have a lot to say about it, but because I didn't want to listen to the 911 tapes which I know I would have to do in order to do any piece justice. And also because I fear in this day and time nothing anyone writes will persuade the folks on the other side of the issue.

But I changed my mind.

I need to write at least this small part about this murder/manslaughter or whatever you want to call the gunning down of an unarmed 17 year old high school student, for my own well being.

You see, I watched over the course of the last few days as much of the discourse has centered around Trayvon Martin's hoodie and George Zimmerman's fear.

As much as I appreciate and support the Million Hoodie marches all around the country I do not think a hoodie has much to do with this crime.

Lets not forget that George Zimmerman didn't even mention what Trayvon Martin was wearing until the 911 operator asked him for a description.

And as much as there is a real and dangerous irrational fear of black men by some people in this country I also don't think that had much to do with this crime, either. At least not from Zimmerman's perspective.

Instead this crime is about a man who decided he would take the law into his own hands and ended up killing a child.

Yes a black child, and believe me I'm will not try to downplay the role race had in this crime. However it was still a child. That he was killed while walking home from the store to get snacks for his younger sibling would be no less tragic if it were a White child, or a Hispanic child, or an Asian child.

Nor would it be any less an outrage if the killer were Black, known to police and still walking free almost a month after the shooting.

What I do realize, however, is that some people in this country will never understand that many of us who are outraged about the killing of Trayvon Martin also believe that if Trayvon had been white his killer probably would have been arrested by now. Especially considering the history of how law enforcement works or doesn't work in this country at times. This kind of injustice has been documented to happen at a higher rate in our communities.

But because of that realization I also don't feel the need to waste my time trying to explain that aspect to those of you whom have made up your mind anyway.

Instead I would much rather try to get my point across by asking a question that applies to every parent, no matter race, creed or religion.

What should we tell our kids to do when they are followed and confronted at night by a stranger?

I ask because although I have taught my kids about "stranger danger" and although I've told them to try to run if approached by a stranger and although I've told them if they can't get away to fight back as though they were fighting for their lives because they just may well be, it turns out maybe I was doing it all wrong.

At least that is what some who are defending the actions of Mr. Zimmerman would have me, you and everyone else believe.

There are facts in this case and then there are assumptions. We don't know everything that happened that night but we do have a pretty clear set of facts.

1. Trayvon had a legal right to be in that neighborhood as he was visiting with his father there.

2. Trayvon Martin walked to the store and purchased Skittles and an iced tea.

3. Trayvon Martin was walking back home at night when George Zimmerman started following him.

4. Trayvon Martin was not in possession of any weapon at the time he was killed.

5. Trayvon Martin was outweighed by Zimmerman by over 100 pounds.

6. George Zimmerman was not a member of law enforcement.

7. George Zimmerman did not accuse nor have any evidence of Trayvon having committed a crime according to the 911 recording.

8. George Zimmerman admitted he was following Trayvon and the 911 operator advised him against it.

Based on those facts and just those facts, what would you have had Trayvon Martin to do differently?

Seriously, I want to know.

The truth is after other calls Zimmerman made we know that it wasn't Trayvon's hoodie that made Trayvon suspicious. Unless you really believe every other person Zimmerman called 911 on for looking "suspicious" was also wearing a hoodie.

George Zimmerman called 911 because that's just what he did when he saw someone he wasn't familiar with. And yes according to Mother Jones those people tended to be black. You can draw your own conclusions from there.

We also know that Zimmerman didn't kill Trayvon over fear. If he feared Trayvon he wouldn't have followed him and then gotten out of his car to pursue him.

If fear was a factor in all of this it was instead Trayvon Martin's entirely rational fear of George Zimmerman. A stranger he didn't know who had been following him at night. Remember, it was Trayvon Martin who ran away from George Zimmerman according to Zimmerman himself on the 911 call.

Let me say that again.

It was Trayvon Martin who ran away from George Zimmerman.

So if there was a person who was fearful here, the facts say that it was Trayvon, not Zimmerman.

And again, isn't that what we are supposed to teach our kids to do when followed by a stranger at night?

There is a report now that Trayvon Martin was seen on top of George Zimmerman as they were on the ground. Some will say that means Trayvon did something wrong and somehow brought the shooting upon himself. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee even asserted prior to his temporary resignation that he was sure Trayvon would "do some thing's differently" if he had it to do over.

Obviously because of the actions of George Zimmerman he will never have that opportunity. But I'm really sincerely confused about this line of thinking.

Again I point back to the fact that Trayvon ran away from Zimmerman. Any confrontation at that point would be due to Zimmerman pursuing him. Even if Trayvon got the best of a grown man 11 years his senior and outweighing him by 100 pounds, how exactly is that Trayvon's fault?

Should he have assumed that a stranger pursing him after following him, at night, meant to do him no harm? Or should he have defended himself from said stranger?

As a father I can guarantee you I will teach my kids to do the latter. I would love to hear from a parent that would teach their kids to do the former because I have a hard time believing they exist.

At that point it was a fight. Even if you want to believe Trayvon started the fight are there people who believe that its ok to shoot and kill an unarmed person because you are losing a fight?


I can only hope that is not close to a majority opinion in this country.

The fact that Trayvon might have "won" the fight still does not negate the fact of why such an altercation happened in the first place. Because George Zimmerman decided that although he had not seen Trayvon Martin commit a crime, he could still pursue him as if he had.

I would only hope that my child would get the best of a stranger following him at night when he thought his life might be in danger.

And if there are people out there who think a parent is supposed to teach their kid not to defend themselves in a similar situation then I guess I'm never going to get that Father Of The Year award.

At the end of the day there will be plenty of folks who attempt to steer the conversation away from my very basic question. The reason is no rational person would tell their child to react the way some are saying Trayvon Martin should've reacted. But we should be mindful of that and keep the conversation focused on what we do know.

Trayvon Martin did not follow and confront George Zimmerman at night. He did not initiate their contact. In point of fact he did what most parents would teach their child to do in that situation. And he lost his life because of it.

And the man who did pursue and confront him that night, the man who didn't listen to the 911 operator, the man who was not a member of law enforcement, the man who shot Trayvon Martin who had nothing on his person but Skittles and an iced tea, is still walking the streets as a free man.

Everything else is just a distraction and should be treated as such.


Update: Saturday March 31 2012

I really did mean for the thoughts I posted last week to be the last ones I wrote on Trayvon Martin unless something dramatic (like an arrest) happened. However another part of the story that actually illustrates my point even more subsequently came to my attention.

The bit of information was something I noticed in this Orlando Sentinel article that published a "leaked" account of what George Zimmerman told police happened the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

A lot of people, myself included, were pretty disgusted at what appeared to be an attempt by law enforcement to use the media to help Zimmerman since of course Trayvon Martin's side of the story will never be told.

At least from his perspective.

But regardless of the motivation the story Zimmerman told police had at least one new detail that caught my eye:

Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.

Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police. Trayvon then said, "Well, you do now" or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.

Italicized words for emphasis

So let's get this straight, according to Zimmerman he was following someone at night who looked "suspicious", maybe was even on drugs and he lost sight of that person. Said person materializes almost out of thin air, closing to within arm's reach of Zimmerman before he is noticed. And then when this "suspicious" person acts aggressively the first thing Zimmerman thinks to do is go for

This is a guy who had a gun concealed on his person and a phone. And out of the two options he picked the phone?


We will get back to that in a minute but, again, lets look at this from Trayvon Martin's perspective.

You have this man, this stranger, following you in his car for no good reason at night who then gets out of the vehicle and pursues you on foot after you try to run away from him and then when you both somehow encounter each other face to face, he reaches for...something.

Even if we generously accept Zimmerman's account that it was a phone he was reaching for, how exactly could anyone expect Trayvon to know that's what it was?

And if your child was in that exact same situation how would you want them to react to a stranger that had been following and pursuing them at night when they had done nothing wrong, reaching for...something?

As I alluded to in the original post, Trayvon Martin had every reason to believe he needed to fight George Zimmerman as if his life depended upon it. And even as the story of Zimmerman's injuries has somewhat imploded I would still hope that Trayvon Martin was able to do some damage to a man whom he had to rightfully have feared.

For the folks who jumped all over this story to defend George Zimmerman by pushing his story that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor, I would certainly wonder how they would've reacted if it was Trayvon who supposedly went for something during this exchange.

Now a few others have mentioned this reaching for the cell phone business, but only in passing. I hope that as some point bring it up more forcefully because it really is a big deal. I think one way to look at this is George Zimmerman had no way of knowing who had seen what when he talked to the police. Why does that matter? Because if someone saw him reaching at all he would need to explain that. But lets run through a few common sense questions on that.

1. We know Zimmerman had already called the police so whom could have have possibly called at that point?

2. Where was his gun holster in relation to the phone he was supposedly reaching for?

3. Would YOU reach for your phone or your gun if you found yourself frightened and in that same situation?

And the last question which is rhetorical: How convenient is it that in Zimmerman's story Trayvon Martin punched him in the nose after he reached for his phone as opposed to if he had been reaching for his gun?

One more thing...

As I assumed there have been even more sideshows since this story has grown to national prominence. I understand why we get sucked in to focusing on stuff like people who weren't at the scene that night giving their description of what happened and even two pretentious media people using cable news air time to have a childish food fight. But remember this, the distractions will not help get justice for Trayvon Martin. Only continuing to keep our eyes on the prize and focusing on what's really important will.

That is what raised the awareness of this case enough to get the DOJ, FBI and even FDLE involved. And keeping the pressure on the powers in charge will likely be what helps to push them to act and arrest George Zimmerman.