Trayvon Martin's killing is a reminder of where America stands with black men.
A Miami Herald article written a month after Trayvon Martin's death described his 17th and final birthday. He spent it with his family enjoying a home-cooked meal and birthday cake. The last presents he received were Issey Miyake cologne, Levi's jeans, and adidas sneakers. Twenty-one days later, he was killed by George Zimmerman while walking to his father's home in Sanford, Fla. Reading about the last celebration of his young life reminded me of my 17th birthday, a dinner outing with my family where I was gifted with a small amount of money, which I stashed in a can inside of my closet. I was always thinking about the future. While I relate to Trayvon Martin, our teenage years weren't identical. The major difference is that I'm fortunate enough to have lived to see adulthood. I got to see that future. As a black man in my twenties, I'm thankful for that every day.
Black men are forced to deal with an unsettling reality on a daily basis: We are perceived as threats. We have to adopt a dual consciousness, a constant awareness of our surroundings and how the rest of the world views us at all times. We live under a microscope and have to use other people as mirrors to gauge how we're seen by the rest of society. We can graduate at the top of our classes and excel in life, yet still have to walk on eggshells because we can easily end up victims of fear just as Trayvon Martin did. Just as Jordan Davis, also 17, did in the same state, the same year. Just as Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, and countless others did before them. We're reminded of this by our parents, the media, and the justice system, but it never gets any easier to digest because when we look at these victims, we can't help but see ourselves.
Black men are forced to deal with an unsettling reality on a daily basis: We are perceived as threats. We have to adopt a dual consciousness, a constant awareness of our surroundings and how the rest of the world views us at all times. We live under a microscope and have to use other people as mirrors to gauge how we're seen by the rest of society. We can graduate at the top of our classes and excel in life, yet still have to walk on eggshells because we can easily end up victims of fear just as Trayvon Martin did.
After following George Zimmerman's murder trial for three weeks, I anticipated his acquittal. To put it bluntly, his defense team—which managed to raise $314,000 because some people were uncomfortably eager to support a man they didn't know who killed a teenager—outperformed the prosecution. This became very obvious during closing arguments, when lead defense attorney Mark O'Mara matched prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda's fire and brimstone with a calm barrage of facts, charts, and a well-timed pause to demonstrate the amount of time Martin had to run from Zimmerman. Picture the trial as a boxing match: While the prosecution was throwing haymakers, the defense ended up winning by decision. They put up a better technical fight to prove in a court of law that Zimmerman was not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. His acquittal is even less surprising if you consider how long it took the state to charge him—how could they build a strong case if they didn't want to take it to trial in the first place?
I was prepared for the verdict, yet I was still devastated when it was delivered. Once again, America had shown young black men the value of their lives. Trayvon Martin would've lived to see his 18th birthday if George Zimmerman had followed a 911 dispatcher's instructions and stayed in his vehicle. The only post-verdict reality that matters is that an unarmed kid who had been 17 for three weeks was killed for no reason, and the man who pulled the trigger has been exonerated.
While Zimmerman walks away a free man, Trayvon Martin is frozen in time as a symbol. During the trial and accompanying media circus, his humanity was cast aside. His character was questioned, as if vilifying him somehow justified his death. As if his death was the result of his actions or the life that he led. As if he deserved to die. By brutalizing him in death, he was made the defendant, not the victim. He was on trial as much as Zimmerman was, maybe more. In the midst of arguments about who was the aggressor in the fatal confrontation and whose voice was heard on the 911 call, people seem to have lost sight of the fact that Trayvon Martin lost his life over nothing. Because he isn't alive to tell his side of the story, he's been reduced to a name, a picture and in the eyes of some, a menace. The verdict is the system once again showing young black men that they don't have to do anything wrong to be killed, and, what's more, the blame can still be assigned to them. America's ability to point the finger while absolving itself of guilt and responsibility is the result of a culture of fear that allows these unnecessary deaths to be charged to the game as opposed to treated like what they are—tragedies.
Trayvon Martin deserved better. He deserved better than meeting his demise while walking back to his father's home after going on a snack run. I'm lucky. It could have been me. This entire episode is a scary reminder to the parents of minority children that America sees their sons as danger before it sees them as human beings. America has sent us a mixed message; sure, we can become president one day, but we can still be shot dead in a split-second because someone decides that our presence is suspicious. Trayvon Martin is dead, but the thing that killed him is still very much alive. For that reason, he lives on in every black man who can't move without considering what society thinks of him. Being as non-threatening as possible is a full-time job, a job that can cost you your life without any mistakes being made. That's my reality, and that's the idea this verdict reinforces.
It's about a month after Trayvon Martin would've graduated from high school. I remember vividly what I was doing a month after graduation: Watching fireworks on the 4th of July, stuffing graduation money into that same hidden can, and thinking about how my life would change when I left for college. Trayvon Martin hoped to attend either the University of Miami or Florida A&M University. I was able to realize my potential. Trayvon never got that opportunity, and it isn't his fault.
Follow Julian Kimble on Twitter here.