I have a son. He is 12 years old. He is handsome, sweet and kind-hearted. He has a great sense of humor, is a good student, a sports fanatic and an avid reader. He is a Christian and loves a good sermon. He also enjoys imitating whooping in the Black Church tradition. He dreams of playing basketball in the NBA and then becoming a lawyer, a sportscaster or a preacher (he hasn’t decided which just yet). He says please and thank you, shakes people’s hands and looks them in the eyes when he’s talking to them. Well, at least most of the time. He has good manners and good home training. I’ve tried to make sure of this because he is my son, I am his mother and that’s what mothers do; Especially mothers who live with the daily reality and fear that in spite of all the good things about him, he is a target.
You see, he is an African American boy living in a country where he is unfairly judged by the color of his skin. He is treated like a criminal, not because he engages in criminal activity, but just because he is. When he goes to the store or when he’s at a restaurant; when he is expressing his sense of humor or doing the things that boys do, some people treat him as if there is something wrong with him—as if he needs Ritalin or some other medication that will make him “calm down” while his counterparts of a lighter hue run and jump and play and make jokes and misbehave and are smiled at and encouraged. But he’s just a boy. A smart boy. A handsome boy. A boy with dreams. A boy who loves, cares, enjoys life and the things that boys enjoy. Likes skittles and iced tea…and hoodies. He is not unlike Trayvon Martin. And, every time I think about what happened to Trayvon, it brings me to tears and mourning and lamentation. Because in a surreal way, Trayvon is my son, too, and someone murdered my child.
You see, Trayvon’s story is every mother’s nightmare come true. It keeps us up some nights. It’s what we worry about when they take too long at the store or are late coming in from riding their bike or playing with friends. It is particularly every African American woman’s nightmare. But unlike bad dreams, this is a nightmare we have lived before, a recurring nightmare that we have had to live over and over again. It is our history. It is our past. It is our present. It is our reality. And, if we don’t do something soon, it will be our future, our tomorrow.
Trayvon’s assassination catapults me back to a time and place and a way of life that I had hoped was behind us. Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that racism no longer exists because we have an African American President, but I just didn’t imagine we would still have to bury our sons, brutally beaten or murdered, simply because of the color of their skin. I mean, come on! It validates and encourages my fear that every time my child is not within eyesight of me; he is potentially in danger because of someone’s hatred of him. It reminds me that no matter how wonderful he is, no matter how smart, no matter how hard I work to keep him out of trouble and to make sure he has a good head on his shoulders, that someone might just look at his beautiful, chocolate-colored skin and feel threatened. Not by him or anything he has done. At less than 80 lbs. wet, he struggles to gain enough weight to play football. But, some racist person or some law enforcement officer might mistake something he does, deem him a threat and take his life. The life that God gave him through me. The life that God plans to use for God’s purposes. Someone may decide that they have the right to kill him and then go without prosecution or consequence for this evil act. I realize this and I grieve and mourn and I am afraid.
But, I’m also mad as hell. I’m also outraged and beside myself with righteous indignation. While it is disheartening, tragic and agonizing to hear about, to think about, what happened to Trayvon; it is also an indictment on the character of a nation that does not always practice what it preaches. That is sometimes more immoral than moral, and more unjust than just, especially as it pertains to crimes committed against people of color.
Trayvon’s death is more than a tragedy. It is more than an unfortunate situation. It is our line in the sand. At least, it should be. How can we accept less than justice and jail time for George Zimmerman? There are no excuses or rationales that justify his vigilante-style execution of Trayvon Martin, returning to the home of his dad’s friend from the store with a pack of skittles and a bottle of iced tea. Zimmerman indicted him as a criminal because he wore a hoodie—a sweatshirt—and ended his life. Our response to this atrocity will show our humanity and how far we’ve come in addressing bigotry and hatred…and racism. I am hopeful that the U.S. Department of Justice, working with state and local officials, will do the right thing—the moral thing, the just thing. If they do not, I pray that we will not stop demanding justice until justice is served.
In the meantime, I am on a mission to buy hoodies, skittles and iced tea and to get ready for the fight. To march and to disrupt, to boycott and to protest, and to find ways to stand for righteousness; to stand for Trayvon and every boy and girl, man and woman, son and daughter, just like him.
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune serves in ministry at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., and is on the board of Grace and Race Ministries, Inc., an ecumenical ministry that advocates racial understanding, healing and reconciliation.