By Linda Tarrant-Reid
As the world watches the parents of Trayvon Martin seek justice in the murder of their 17-year old son by a vigilante volunteer, we are struck by their grace. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have faced TV cameras and unrelenting questions about their son and his murderer; they have spoken at a Congressional hearing on racial profiling on Capitol Hill; they have appeared at rallies numbering in the thousands of supporters; and through it all, they have maintained their composure and not strayed from their message – “Justice for Trayvon.”
I’m not certain I would have the poise that Trayvon’s parents possess if my son had been the victim of racial profiling resulting in his death. Mothers and fathers all over the world who have heard about the case in Sanford, Florida are deeply moved by the events that ended with the death of someone so young and for, apparently, no reason other than the color of his skin. Trayvon has become all of our sons. Protesters on Sunday in Miami and Sanford, Florida demanded the arrest of Zimmerman, while local and state legislators, church goers, entertainers, sports figures and others donned hoodies demanding justice for Trayvon.
When my son was around 12-years old, we had the talk with him. This was the talk that most, if not all, African American parents have with their male children. My husband and I told our son that as an African American male he would be viewed differently by the white race. That because of the color of his skin he would be judged before he even opened his mouth. We cautioned him about his behavior in public and how no matter how innocent his actions were; he would not be treated the same as his white counterpart. We were anxious when he was away from us and always gave him reminders of our talk before he left the house. This rite-of-passage is something that I believe Trayvon’s parents’ most likely shared with him as well.
But even when we, as parents, do our job in educating our young men as to the dangers of “Living in America while Black”; their fate is really not something that we can control. Our children’s lives are at-risk whenever they walk out of the front door.
Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, had warned her 14-year old son and his cousin Wheeler in August 1955 on their first visit to relatives in Mississippi. She did not let Emmett board the train from Chicago before “schooling him on the ways of the South.” According to the PBS American Experience documentary, “The Murder of Emmett Till,” Ms. Till described what she said to Emmett and his cousin before they left on their trip.
“I let them know that Mississippi was not Chicago.” With the same instructions that many moms give their Black children when visiting a dangerous area, Mamie Till warned her son and nephew, “You’ve got to be very careful. And when you go to Mississippi, you’re living by an entirely different set of rules…it is, ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am’, ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’. And, Beau [Emmett’s nickname] if you see a white woman coming down the street, you get off the sidewalk and drop your head. Don’t even look at her.”
Emmett Till was murdered by two white men in Money, Mississippi just a little more than a week after he arrived from Chicago for allegedly paying unwelcome attention to a white woman. Till’s tragic death galvanized both Black and white Americans when Mamie Till allowed Emmett’s casket to be open for the entire world to see what had been done to her son. The tragic photos of Emmett’s mutilated face where published nationally and internationally and the world reacted. The subsequent trial of the two accused murderers ended with an acquittal and the miscarriage of justice in the Emmett till Case, many believe, ignited the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
As more and more information comes out about what occurred the night George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin, one has to ask the question, “What were the Sanford Police thinking?
“And how come they haven’t arrested Zimmerman yet?” A 911 transcript of a call received by dispatchers on the night of the murder has screaming in the background, which Zimmerman family members are claiming as proof that Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon. Voice analysis experts hired by the Florida-based newspaper the Orlando Sentinel have ruled out that the screams were from Zimmerman based on their comparison of his voice on the 911 tape. That leaves only Trayvon as the source of the screams.
Zimmerman’s claims that he reacted in self defense, that he was in a “death struggle” with Trayvon, that his nose was broken and he suffered injuries to his head and face were not apparent in a recently released police video of Zimmerman. He had no visible signs of injuries, including bloodstains on his face or head or even his clothing as he walked unassisted, in handcuffs, into the Police Station after the incident.
And through it all, Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, has been a tower of strength, protecting the legacy of her 17-year old son. Ms. Fulton and Trayvon’s father, Mr. Martin, have countered negative attacks to their son’s reputation by meeting comments head on. They have pursued every avenue open to them to tell the story of their beloved Trayvon, so we do not forget him and allow him to be lost in the commotion and frenzy.
We have not come very far from the events of August 1955, when a 14-year old young Black boy was killed by two white men to today when a 17-year old young Black man was killed by a white vigilante in February 2012. Just as Emmett’s murder was a call to action for disenfranchised African Americans, so, too, is Trayvon’s death in reinvigorating a movement for civil rights. The struggle continues.