Trayvon Martin: The galvanizing effect of the murder of a black boy
Not in vain
In 1955, Emmett Louis Till was brutally murdered by two white men after he had the nerve to whistle at a white woman and/or ask her out on a date. He was 14-years-old when he took the trip from his home in Chicago, IL to Money, MS. His mother was reluctant to let him go on the trip because she knew how racist the South was and she knew her son, “Bobo”. He was a teenager and given to bouts of boasting. She decided to allow him to visit his Southern relatives anyway.
During this time, the Civil Rights Movement had struggled to gain traction. There had been some significant victories, but there had not been a signature incident that brought all factions together as one. The death of Till was that event. After Jet Magazine published a picture of Till’s body in his casket, the movement changed. Till died in August and Rosa Parks would stand her ground in December. The outrage over the death of a teenager and the subsequent sham trials brought together the forces that would become the Civil Rights Movement.
During the years since the Civil Rights struggle, Blacks in America have continued to complain about unfair treatment based simply on the color of their skin. Yet that struggle has been largely disorganized and ineffective until February 26, 2012. That was the day that Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Sanford, FL. Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, while coming back from a 7-11 with a bag of skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman reported to police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious and on drugs. Despite being warned not too, he followed Martin and confronted the teen. Part of that confrontation can be heard on 911 tapes. There are screams and then a gunshot and the screams fall silent. Zimmerman broke every neighborhood watch rule that night, including carrying a weapon and following and confronting Trayvon.
Martin’s death may have been just another side story on the evening news were it not for social media. The story was kept alive and grew into a new moment that has galvanized and educated Americans on the dangers of profiling and stereotypes. Martin did not die in vain and his death has brought America face-to-face with racism in her midst.
Martin is this generation’s Till. His death must be the catalyst to change a system that is racist and suspects young men of color simply because of what they look like and the clothes they wear. His death is the rallying cry and the impetus for change in American justice. Hopefully, it is the thing that will change hearts and make us all take a better look at ourselves and what we can do to fight intolerance.
Zimmerman may not be a racist, but his actions are part and parcel to a racist society. I hope that the bullet that took Martin’s life becomes a symbol of change. If it makes one person speak up the next time they hear a racist joke, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it causes one person to think differently when a black man walks by, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it changes the gun laws and makes states take a look at the Stand Your Ground Laws, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it cause each of us to look a little bit differently at the Trayvons of the world, then his death is not in vain.
Let’s make sure that Trayvon’s death is not in vain. RIP Trayvon.
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