Yes, I am black.
No, I’m not a big fan of hoodies.
Yes, I believe Trayvon Martin’s death was sad, regrettable and should not have happened.
Yes, I do think society should be concerned about the manner in which he died.
No, I don’t think race is the issue.
It was as though after criticism of the Kony 2012 campaign went almost as viral as the video of the campaign itself, the world needed a fresh campaign to go crazy about. That campaign was found in the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Martin was a 17-year-old African-American who was shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a man of Peruvian and white descent. Martin was unarmed, walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend when Zimmerman, a community watch captain, began following Martin and called the Sanford Police Department to say he witnessed suspicious behaviour. Soon afterward, there was a physical altercation which ended when Zimmerman fatally shot Martin.
The circumstances surrounding Martin’s death have received national and international attention. President Obama pledged a full investigation into the death of Martin and offered his condolences to the Martin family. Hoodies have since taken on a national significance in the United States, as Martin was killed while wearing one. Donning a hoodie is currently seen as a sign of protest, and many cities across America staged “million hoodie marches” or “hundred hoodie marches” against the suggestion that he was killed because he was black and that the police have failed to perform their role because they have declined to charge Zimmerman for manslaughter.
The criticism that the killing was racially-motivated is yet to be properly substantiated. Crucially, however, if the victim of the shooting had been a hooded white teen or a hooded hispanic teen, would it be any less atrocious? The answer ought to be no. Why? Because the killing of any 17-year old in such a disproportionate manner is unacceptable. Obama has accentuated the racial undertones of the killing, perhaps unduly, when he asserted that, if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin. Various critics have pointed out that if the President had a son, he wouldn’t look anything like Trayvon Martin. He’d be wearing a blazer from his prep school, he’d be driving a Beemer and he’d be surrounded by Secret Service. So the president’s suggestion that he can only feel for this kid because he looks physically like him is patently flawed.
What about the united view that everybody appreciates what it is to lose a son of any colour? – not to mention the common adage that not all black people look the same.
The real enemy in this tragedy is not race. A teen of any race, social standing or persuasion may wear a hoodie. A man of any colour can view a hooded teen as suspicious. The problem lies in the law that enables a man who forms a suspicion that a person is a danger to him to take the law into his own hands and kill that person. Whether the victim is a hooded black teen or otherwise is immaterial. What society should focus on is the “stand your ground” law which is part of the law of the state of Florida. This law states that a person may use deadly force in self-defence when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. Under this principle, a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations and the “stand your ground” law would be a defence or to criminal charges and a civil suit. Florida’s law in this regard makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defence. The shooter can argue he felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the victim who was shot and killed.
The “stand your ground” law has been used to excuse neighbourhood brawls, bar fights, road rage, and even street gang violence. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that “[w]hether it’s trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”
The prosecution of Zimmerman under such legislation is not what the campaign should be about. There is a large chance he would go free. The “stand your ground” law doesn’t apply only to black victims. Trayvon Martin was not unique in his fate. Race is not the problem; the law is. To campaign only for Trayvon Martin is to obfuscate issues and run away from the true problem we ought to be campaigning against. A balance must be struck between the law of self-defence and the sanctity of human life. Laws which support killing in self-defence must factor in proportionality.
Trayvon Martin lies in all of us – not just the illusory son of a black President. Before Trayvon Martin was black, he was human. No person, black hooded teen or otherwise, should be allowed to die in this way with the sanction of the law.