A Dred Scott Moment About Trayvon Martin

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For even the worst student of American History, the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford remains one of the easiest to remember.  Many historians believe that this legal drama led to the American Civil War in 1860.  In fact, the name “Dred Scott” conjures up that infamous statement by U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “Tawney”)*, who ruled that, Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Anyone can use the name “Dred Scott” as a search term on the Internet and find hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts, including reproductions of the legal documents used in this tragic and pivotal court case.  If you need to read a quick summary of it, click here: Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857).

Visit any online bookstore, public or university library and you will find dozens of books on the subject.  There have even been a few fictionalized accounts of his life.  Yet, in the main, the textbook story about him is largely about the case he and his wife ultimately lost when the United States Supreme Court ruled against them in 1857 after this couple had trudged through eleven long years of litigation.  Yet, in spite of the notoriety of this Supreme Court ruling, information about Dred and Harriet Scott as individuals remains largely and primarily the interest of the serious historian or legal scholar.

Some extensive book accounts about the Scott family note certain characteristics of Dred Scott’s personality and his limitations (e.g. Like most slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, he was illiterate).  The textbook and encyclopedia accounts, however, stick to the main facts in the legal case.  Most people forget (or never knew) that after the Supreme Court ruled against him, Taylor Blow (a member of a family that once owned Scott) purchased him and set him free.  Yet, Scott only lived another year and four months—dead by May of 1858.  Even worse, his grave only received an “official marker” some ninety-nine years later when Blow’s granddaughter purchased one for his grave in 1957.**

I bring up these lesser known facts about Scott to make a point about this issue of “individuals,” and to highlight some real limitations often found in history, social commentary, and performance and visual arts—namely, that the human beings at the center of a storm often become transformed into causes, into ideas, into legends.  As much as we all need causes, great ideas and legends, there is the risk of losing the individual.  This is particularly true of the late Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman who is, at the time of this writing, about to stand trial for his murder.  I need not retell the details about the death of Martin here.  You can read my early commentary about this tragedy by reading the blogs in my Blog Archive.  I only ask you to remember a few things.

For the public, particularly the African-American public, Trayvon Martin is another painful reminder of this nation’s history of judicial and social obstruction and neglect; and a long and painful history of racially motivated violence.  With his face emblazoned on T-Shirts, special photos, and artwork, we do not really know who Trayvon Martin was as an individual save for what he now symbolizes to us in death.  We also do not really know Zimmerman, but he too is also now a symbol—Depending on which side you are on he is either the personification of the horrors that acute racist profiling can produce or he is a symbol of every person who ever shot someone in self-defense who was unjustly accused of murder.  Yet, neither Trayvon Martin (nor Zimmerman, for that matter) exists in their parents, extended family and friends’ memories in this manner.

Martin’s Mom and Dad remember his first baby steps, his first words, and yes, even the first time they scolded him.  They will remember birthdays and Christmases.  They will remember his favorite foods, TV shows, toys and gadgets.  They will recall his smiles and his mischief; and they will inevitably remember the first time he got into some potentially serious trouble—he was, after all, an adolescent at the time of his death.  Anyone with a teenager knows that those years are difficult precisely because the child is making that awkward transition from child into adult.  Martin might symbolize a lot to all of us, but he ultimately belonged to his mother and father.

I will not make any predictions about the trial of George Zimmerman.  I can only say that for Trayvon Martin’s parents in particular, this case is not just about fighting for the noble cause of ending racially motivated violence.  It is also and primarily about finding some sense of justice and closure for the loss of their son.  Yet, we must admit that with the passage of time, how most of us will eventually remember Trayvon Martin could easily mirror the way most of us remember Dred Scott.  Those of us who read about him in history classes know that we studied more about the political and social significance of the court case than we ever studied or knew about Dred Scott as a man, a husband and father.  We know even less about his wife Harriet Scott, an often forgotten and overlooked actor in this pivotal litigation.  Years after Zimmerman’s murder trial is over, no matter the outcome, Trayvon Martin’s parents WILL NOT see him as “that case about the Black boy who was wearing a hoodie, who got killed in Sanford, Florida,” but rather as their son who they lost too soon—It is this fact that we, the public, will too soon forget.  Yet, it is this fact that I hope we will somehow struggle to always remember.

Trayvon Martin’s Father Remembers

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

*          Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 379.

**         New York Times,  “Honor For Dred Scott:  Granddaughter of Man Who Freed Slave Places Marker,” 26 July 1957.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

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Ralph McGill Would Never Defend “Stand Your Ground”

Photographer: Jon Sullivan.  Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo.

“Scales of Justice” by Jon Sullivan, photographer. Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo. Available from Public-Domain-Image.com

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the late Ralph McGill (1898-1969), he was a White journalist and publisher of the old Atlanta Constitution (now the Atlanta Journal Constitution).  He was also a well-known liberal who wrote about racial discrimination in society at large and within the criminal justice system.  He did this long before the Civil Rights Movement reached its apogee in the 1960s.  Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned McGill in his eloquent “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”  King wrote that McGill and some other White journalists, “have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and understanding terms.”  Indeed, McGill was a man who watched, learned, and evolved into one of the most progressive voices in the American South and the nation when it came to race relations, civil rights, and the penal system.  With that said, it is important for you to understand that I did not learn about Ralph McGill from a newspaper or a book, but rather from my schoolteacher mother.

Mama remembered that he emphasized that when a Black person killed another Black person they typically received very light jail or prison sentences—that is, if they received any jail time at all.  It was just the opposite if they had killed a White person.  He noted that because of this failure to properly punish Black people who killed other Black people, the judicial system literally encouraged those individuals to carry out their anger to its fullest possible extreme.  He accused the judicial system of encouraging Black folks to kill each other.  Mama said that there was an unsettling joke going around in Atlanta during the 1940s that said: if you were a Black man that killed another Black man you would be out of jail in time to go to your victim’s funeral.  Indeed, in his column in the Atlanta Constitution on September 17, 1941, McGill wrote:

“In the first place our courts, to our shame and, although no one seems to see it, to our very great financial cost, never take Negro crime seriously.  A Negro murderer, killing another Negro, rarely receives any severe punishment.  Juries and prosecutors have, for years, viewed them lightly as just another Negro killing, and therefore, of not much importance.”  (Ralph McGill – Crime, Standards, Methods 9-17-1941)

He remained one of a handful of White journalists that understood that any law or process or social practice that devalued Black life also made Black people the more likely targets of violence by killers of all races.  He also noted that many members of Atlanta’s then all-White police department had poor training and were “quick-on-the-trigger.”

I thought about Ralph McGill after the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012.  When Jordan Davis of Atlanta, Georgia was killed in Jacksonville, Florida later in November, I again thought about McGill, arguably one of the most vocal writers who paid serious attention to Black-on-Black and White-on-Black violence and the institutionalized racism in the criminal justice systems of Georgia and the nation.  I will not recount how Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin died needless and preventable deaths.  I will leave it to you to read the details of Davis’ death on your own.  (Take a minute and read Madison Gray’s very brief Time Magazine report “With Echoes of Trayvon Martin, Florida Man Claims Self Defense in Shooting Death of Teen.”)  Yet, I wonder what McGill might have said about the horrible killings of these two unarmed Black teenagers by two men—One of Peruvian and Jewish extraction and the other a White man.  I am sure he would have had much to say about the racial dynamics surrounding these two killings and the law known as “Stand Your Ground.”

Nearly half the states in this country have “Stand Your Ground” laws.  At minimum, these laws allow an individual the right to use deadly force if that individual has a reasonable belief that their lives are threatened.  Importantly, the law typically states that it is not necessary for a threatened individual to retreat from the perceived danger.  The jury is still out on whether this kind of law has reduced crime rates anywhere.  It is important to note, however, that there is nothing in these laws that give citizens the right to provoke and/or create a potentially volatile scenario where they place themselves in danger and then use deadly force in response to the dangerous scenario they created.

The fact that George Zimmerman, charged with second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, was told by a 911 operator not to follow Martin, has forced Zimmerman’s attorneys to drop the use of “Stand Your Ground” as a part of his defense is cause for all of us to pause.  The fact that Michael Dunn, charged with the murder of Jordan Davis (and also charged with attempted murder of the other teens in the SUV), told these kids to turn their music down at a gas station is also problematic.  Most people do not stay at a gas station for very long.  Is it safe or even logical to tell total strangers what to do or what not to do while they are seated in their own vehicles at a public place like a gas station at 7:30 in the evening?  Think about it.  Will Florida lawmakers ever understand that the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws are not always working in the best interests of its citizens?  McGill would have recognized the counterproductive and dangerous potential for abuse in “Stand Your Ground” legislation.

When I finally got the opportunity to read some of the newspaper columns written by McGill, I noticed some important qualities:  He spoke his mind about what was going on in the city and the world at that moment.  Yet, he did so with an eye on the future.  Like many of Atlanta’s early boosters, he always prescribed the course of action that he believed was best for the city of Atlanta—the entire city of Atlanta.  He knew that crime, racial discrimination, racial virulence, and the like, were bad for the city.  He was as practical and he was ethical.

I do not know exactly what McGill might have said or asked about the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.  Yet, I have little doubt that he would understand and endorse the necessity of raising the following questions about how citizens interpret their rights as defined in “Stand Your Ground” law:  How does the “Stand Your Ground” law define “feeling threatened”?  If you look menacing or say something that makes me feel afraid, will the law allow me the right to use deadly force against you based solely on my assumption of what I think you might do?  Do citizens need more than the basic right of self-defense?  What might an angry person do if they are armed and know that they might be able to get away with killing someone because, by law, they do not have to retreat from danger?  Much like Atlanta in 1941, does not this law encourage people to choose to kill one another?  Don’t these kind of laws eventually breed a flagrant disregard for the law?  McGill wrote that, “Anything that breeds contempt for the law is costly.”  He was right.

When I asked my Mama why she liked Ralph McGill, she simply said,

“He made sense and he was always, always fair.  He always asked for justice and the fair treatment of all citizens.  Justice and fair treatment were the only things Black people wanted.”

Justice and fair treatment are still all we want.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Much To Do With Manhood

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

“Weary – Self Portrait, ” Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

I strongly urge every one to read “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in September 2012’s Atlantic Magazine; and “Barack X: Race and the Obama Presidency” by Atlanta’s own Jelani Cobb posted on October 8, 2012 in The New Yorker.  These are two superior essays that deal with the shifting attitudes about race as this nation examines the record of our current President Barack Obama.  While I cannot give you an analysis of everything Coates and Cobb discussed, I can say that these essays are masterpieces by two very thoughtful Black scholars.

It is worth mentioning that Coates noticed a definitive and more negative shift in the manner in which some members of the Right viewed and spoke about Obama once he came out and stated that if he had a son that son would look like Trayvon Martin.  He also stressed that the President did not point accusatory fingers at anyone, but simply asked for a thorough investigation of the killing of the unarmed teenager.  However, Cobb beautifully and uniquely compared Obama to the late Malcolm X.  Once Malcolm X returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and reappraised his approach to dealing with America’s racial problems, he was confronted by many people, Black and White, who were not prepared to accept his evolution into an activist that would and could build multiracial coalitions to fight for racial and economic justice.  Cobb underscored that like Malcolm X, Obama simultaneously represents different things to different sets of people, almost none of who are prepared to grant him much wiggle room to change.

In both essays Obama appears as much set free by his racial identity as he is boxed-in by it.  Although Coates and Cobb’s commentary was deeply moving, I noticed how their and others’ discussions about President Obama and the death of Trayvon Martin have so rarely focused on gender, on the very idea of manhood and even Black manhood itself.

As a self-designated Black man—and please, let us not discuss the fantasy that Black Americans are racially pure because miscegenation, during and after slavery, ended that purity—President Obama has, according to many pundits, simply not been able to publically show anger because, God-forbid, he might appear to White voters as the stereotypical angry Black man.  Black male aggression (and violence) is fine on a football field or against other Black people or in the movies.  Yet, such imagined or real aggression is not acceptable in the Whitehouse or on a street in a gated suburban enclave: that is, if you believe the late Trayvon Martin was the aggressor against neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman who pulled the trigger on Martin allegedly in self-defense.

For Black men, any demonstration of a more forceful masculinity is fraught with dangers.  If Black men act angry and are loud, they risk stigmatization as “thugs,” or worse they might conjure up that age-old stereotype, the “Black Buck.”  The “Black Buck” was almost always a villainous rapist and/or thief and/or murderer or all of the above.  The stereotype is almost as old as the American slavery that allowed White southern slave holders to manufacture it, in part, to justify Whites’ continued enslavement and persecution of Black people.  Black people en masse, but Black men in particular, Whites reasoned, needed supervision.

President Obama knows this history of Black America.  Was Trayvon Martin familiar with this history?  Does George Zimmerman know anything about this narrative?  We do not know.  We also cannot know if Zimmerman saw (or sees) himself as somehow having transcended that category known as “person of color” due to his having a Jewish father.  The media first described George Zimmerman as, “Hispanic White” or “White Hispanic,” to the surprise and confusion of many enlightened members of an ethnically and racially diverse Hispanic American population, many of who have some African and/or Amerindian ancestry themselves.

When protests over Martin’s death became a national and then an international cause célèbre, the media pivoted and identified Zimmerman as the visibly brown-complexioned man of Peruvian extraction on his mother’s side that most of us already assumed he was.  So, what does all of this mean?  Well, it means that President Obama and George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin have much in common, even if their commonality is not strikingly evident.

Obama, Martin, and Zimmerman are (and were) manipulated and trapped, by real and perceived definitions of masculinity—masculinity viewed through the prism of race and certain inter- and intra-racial expectations.  All three males are confined not only by their own definitions of manhood, but also by classifications that come from others who place certain expectations on them for reasons that have everything to do with their race and gender.

Zimmerman has a police record.—He once fought a police officer that tried to arrest one of his friends.  Such a brawl appears, on the surface, as one example of swaggering male bravado.  If Trayvon Martin did in fact confront Zimmerman—the man who was following him—he probably did so in order not to appear weak or afraid.  Remember, Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend, a young woman who told him to run.  How many boys, to say nothing of men, want to appear weak or afraid in front of women who are important to them?  While we will never have a complete account of that tragic night in February 2012, it is plausible that Martin’s flawed teenage wisdom incorrectly told him to “Stand His Ground,” pardon the pun.  How many fathers and men (and mothers for that matter) have you heard tell sons, nephews, and any male friend or family member to, “Protect yourself; protect your mother, your sisters, your girlfriends, your wives.  Do not start a fight, but do not allow anyone to push you around or run you away.  BE A MAN!”  For most of us, the opposite of being a man is to be a coward.  And then…

There was President Obama’s polished and fact-filled, but rather lackluster, performance in the first Presidential debate of 2012.  Critics rightfully thought he should have hammered away at some of Mitt Romney’s falsehoods.  Instead, Obama seemingly held back, and people on all sides of the political spectrum saw Romney as the winner.  The president appeared to many people as weak.  Was he tired?  Maybe.  Has his notoriety as being cool and level headed, restricted his responses?  Perhaps.  We do not know.  Yet, there is such a thing as being too calm or even too cautious.  I would not wish the balancing act that the President has performed for nearly four years on anyone.  However, there was something about the glee coming from many folks on the Right, that made Romney look like the Great White Hope—all puns intended—a man that had the stamina to beat a Black man.

I do not know what may happen in the next debate or in November 2012.  Perhaps everything I have written here will become obsolete in just a few days.  Yet, I do know this.  At this late stage of the game, President Obama has little to lose if he shows a flash of righteous anger.  In fact, I believe he is entitled to it.  And here is why: In a gated community in Sanford, Florida, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman might not have followed a Black female for no other reason than her being Black.  It is easy to dismiss a Black female as harmless even when they often are not. Zimmerman did not follow Trayvon Martin because of something Martin did or was doing.  He followed Martin because of what he thought Martin might do.  And Black males always might do something, right?

I do not want to give the impression that we Black females have not been and are not subjected to some of the worst brutalities and indignities.  Yet, Black females, are too often dismissed as non-threatening simply because we are women.  WE Black women fight for our personhood, not our womanhood.  And because we are often dismissed, those of us with brains can use our inconsequentiality to get away with any number of things that Black men might be reprimanded for or killed for attempting to do.  It is no accident that it was Black females who first refused to relinquish their seats to White passengers on those buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 (and there were several who did it before Rosa Parks).   A Black man or boy might simply have been killed.  WE sisters have always known how to use our persecutors’ varied and negative definitions of us against those same persecutors.

Now, too many folks followed President Obama in the mistaken belief that the sheer virility of his Black manhood, with all of its alleged hyper-masculine implications, would cause the earth to spin in a different direction and the “Magic Negro” would appear and solve everyone’s problems.  Throughout history Black folks have often been viewed simultaneously as having some special qualities all the while being villainized, often by the same people.  This is not new.  When folks on the Left and the Right discovered the President to be a mere, albeit talented and highly intelligent, mortal Black man, the disappointment resonated everywhere.  How dare he defy that racialized masculine stereotype of what Black manhood must be, should be.  George Zimmerman bought into the flip side of this fallacy and followed and subsequently shot and killed an unarmed Black teenager in alleged self-defense.  He has arrived at this tragic moment in his life precisely because he mistakenly believed that the boy needed to be followed in the first place.  Yet, Zimmerman himself could not/cannot escape the stigma(s) that follow “men of color” either.  He was first conveniently a “White Hispanic.”  He became a “Brown man” the moment public opinion turned up the heat about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  So here is my message to President Obama:

Your enemies will not acknowledge your triumphs no matter how gracious you are, no matter how genteel you are, no matter how big the victory, no matter how much you love and respect your wife or spend quality time with your daughters.  Some of your allies worry that if you show any anger you will frighten someone–mainly some already nervous White folks.  But here is the dilemma, you already frighten a lot of people for reasons we all understand.  No matter how skinny or seemingly innocuous or peaceful or tempered your demeanor and responses may be, you remain a threat, a Black male threat.  (WE also know that if you had been 17-years-old in Florida and walking back from the store wearing a hoodie, you too probably would have been followed or worse.)  Now, I am not suggesting that you show up at a campaign rally or a staff meeting or a debate and punch somebody’s lights out.  I have no desire for you or any other Black man to be violent, loud or profane.  I expect decorum at all times.  However, since you are already perceived as a threat, you might as well turn up the heat.  History has shown that turning up the heat is all our enemies truly respect.  WE, your sisters, know what real dignified Black manhood looks like. WE have been warmed by it, loved by it, respected by it, protected by it and defended by it; and WE have your back!

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

 

A Stranger in the Neighborhood – The Worse Case Scenario

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

*

(Update 6-24-2013: When I wrote this blog last year the public only saw a photo of George Zimmerman in an orange prison suit where he clearly weighed roughly 250 pounds.  When he finally appeared in public, I, like everyone else was shocked to see that he had lost weight. (Of course he appears in 2013 to have gained much of it back.  I mentioned Zimmerman’s size in this blog and have left it as it is because I think it is important to note that our impressions are based on the kind of information we have access to.  My opinions have not changed and neither has the blog below.

*Update 3-29-2012:  When I wrote and published the piece below on March 25, 2012, news reports stated that there had been a physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman in which Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head.  A new video obtained by ABC news showed Zimmerman being brought into police custody, also showed that he had no signs of physical injury or blood anywhere on his person.  Then in a couple of days there were new accusations that the video had been doctored–a new video showed Zimmerman with gashes on the back of his head.  I am, however, leaving the contents of this blog “as is” because there are some questions that need to be answered that have little to do with how badly Zimmerman was allegedly injured by Martin.  A hyperlink to the “first” ABC video is provided at end of this blog.*)

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I will not bore you by retelling what has already been reported about the fatal and tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  If you have been anywhere near a television or the internet, you know several stories about this already.  I would like to share my take on what questions need to be asked about this case and to share my own personal experiences with fear.

I remember the first time I called the police because I saw a person walking around my neighborhood who I had never seen before.  The person stopped at every house, looked in a few neighbors’ windows, and they did not seem to be selling anything.  I called the police, looked out my window at the person and wrote down everything from what they were wearing to how old I thought they were.  I have done this a couple of times, once when the person was Black like me and another time when the person was White.  As a police officer once told me, “You ladies should not be taking chances.  Call the police when you see anything out of the ordinary.”  In each instance the person had a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood, but I let the police question these individuals and then waited for the police to stop by my house to let me know what they discovered and to assure me that I had nothing to worry about.

Right now George Zimmerman is under fire for his fatal shooting of Black,17-year-old,140 pound Trayvon Martin whom Zimmerman claims attacked him from behind.  Most people are reasonably having a hard time understanding how Zimmerman, who weighs 250 pounds, was over powered by what is obviously a slender teenage boy.  That Zimmerman had a bloody nose when police arrived on the scene does raise the possibility that Trayvon might have, at some point, hit the man in the face.

Friends of Zimmerman have come forward to paint him as someone who was certainly not racist; someone who mentored a young Black boy; and a man who has been crying and feels very bad about what has transpired.  He should feel bad, because if the police had properly conducted their investigation, Zimmerman might be in a jail cell where he would probably feel much safer than he feels right now.  He and his defenders understand his suspicions about Trayvon Martin, but there has been no statement from Zimmerman or anyone in his camp that suggests he has the faintest understanding that his actions probably frightened the hell out of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman and all other parties also need to understand that even if he is not a racist as he and some of his defenders have claimed, that many people who are not Black and who bear no particular ill-will against the Black community often harbor some dangerous and downright stupid stereotypes about Black people.  You do not need to be a virulent racist to harbor stereotypes about any group of people.  I have met many White and allegedly non-racist liberals who have assumed certain things about ALL Black people, only to embarrass themselves when they discover their mistake.

There are some questions that should plague everyone about this fatal shooting.  First, let us suppose a HYPOTHETICAL scenario where Trayvon Martin jumps George Zimmerman from behind and actually physically gets the best of him.  If this scenario is true then the next question is what motivated Trayvon Martin to attack in this way?  What would you do if someone continued to follow you and you were not near your house?  If Zimmerman was safely driving in his SUV with a loaded gun, following Trayvon Martin, then why did Zimmerman not just crack his car window, say, “Hello” to Trayvon and then calmly ask the boy what he was doing in the neighborhood or if he lived in the neighborhood.  And if the person walking in your neighborhood seemed so threatening, why not follow from a safe distance and wait for the police.

I remember driving one night, with a car following me; the experience was unbelievably frightening.  I drove until I found a well-lit parking lot, populated with several people.  The car followed me into the parking lot, made a U-Turn and then quickly sped away.  My heart raced with fear, but I hurried home glad that nothing happened.  I do not know what I might have done (or might do) if I were out walking and suddenly discovered someone was following me in a car.  If you are walking, you cannot outrun the vehicle.  Then, what would you think if the driver exited the car?  Certainly, I might be convinced that the person was trying to harm me in some way.  Being followed also provokes feelings of vulnerability and anger.

George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin when he did not have to do so.  WHY SHOULD ANYONE EXPECT A BOY WALKING DOWN A STREET TO STOP FOR A COMPLETE STRANGER  THAT THE  BOY BELIEVES IS FOLLOWING HIM?  If Zimmerman’s account of what happened is correct: that Trayvon Martin jumped him from behind, then Zimmerman should be prepared to explain why he thought Trayvon Martin did this, and how such a small framed boy managed to over power a 250 pound man.  I must admit that when you think your life is threatened, fear will make you much stronger than you ever knew you were.  If Zimmerman’s account is correct then he needs to explain his role in provoking such a response from a boy who was a good student and who had no criminal record.  The key word here is “boy.”

We probably will never know exactly what was said by Zimmerman or Martin.  It is always possible that a nasty verbal exchange took place between them; this would not come as a surprise.  However, that Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend over his cell phone that he was being followed is frightening.  She too is an adolescent who told him to run.  He said he would just walk fast.  Black boys who “walk fast” are not always doing so because they have done something wrong or fleeing the scene of a crime.  But anyone who is afraid will walk fast or possibly run.

Even in the worst of all possible–not actual–scenarios, no matter how mature or responsible Trayvon Martin might have been in his too short life, his ability to reason like a mature adult was still a year or two away.  Some maturity comes with time and experience.  Some mistakes in judgment are expected when you are a teenager; and no one expects a 17-year-old boy to never make the wrong decision.  At the risk of invoking a stereotype about all adolescent males, can someone tell me whether they have ever met a young teenage boy who has not had at least one fisticuff over something silly or even something serious?  Yet, it was completely rational to try to walk or run away from someone Trayvon believed was following him.  For Zimmerman to assume that his following someone walking down the street would not be frightening to that person is about as absurd and irrational as anyone can get.

The public may never know the exact details of what transpired on that tragic night in February.  I freely admit my anger over this boy’s death.  Yet, no matter what happens next or whose story becomes the narrative of this tragedy, there is still one clear fact that no one can escape or ignore, and that fact is that George Zimmerman was not/is not a teenager, but A GROWN MAN who should have known better.  Trayvon Martin left this world, his family, and his friends while he was just a boy.

(*This is a hyperlink to the surveillance video of George Zimmerman being taken into custody by the Sanford, Florida police on the night he killed Trayvon Martin: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/trayvon-martin-case-exclusive-surveillance-video-george-zimmerman/story?id=16022897)

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