One tragic day in February, Trayvon Martin bought a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea from a convenience store and was on his way back to the home of his father’s fiancée in a Sanford, Florida, gated community. That benign act would end with the 17-year-old’s life snuffed out because he was black, wearing a hoodie, and looked “suspicious.”
Trayvon was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old self-appointed community watch volunteer. When he contacted the police to report concerns, he was instructed not to engage the young man. Instead Zimmerman began pursuing the youth, initiating a confrontation that led to the fatal shooting.
While Trayvon’s family and friends grieves over their loss, the perpetrator of this heinous act remains free due to his claim of self-defense that some law enforcement officials deemed was in keeping with the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a statute permitting individuals to use deadly force, if necessary, to protect themselves from “reasonable” threats without obligation to retreat.
When I saw the news reports I was hurt, but not shocked. In viewing the soulful eyes of Trayvon staring back at me from the television screen, I could only think of my 17-year-old son. He looks just like Trayvon.
The experience also took me back to when I was that age and the lessons of survival my father was forced to share with me and my brothers, a conversation held in millions of black households across this nation. If we were ever stopped by the police while driving he instructed us to place our hands on the steering wheel, not to make any sudden moves, and to address questions without attitude. The only objective, he stressed, was to make it home safely. Now, some 30 years later, I have to give that same lecture to my sons.
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