Letter on Trayvon Martin

Christina Reseigh

THIS LETTER TO the editors is in response to Malik Miah’s article on the Trayvon Martin murder that appeared in the May-June issue of ATC. It is by Christina Reseigh, a Pre-Nursing major and Spanish minor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

AMERICANS CANNOT AFFORD to become complacent and think the battle has been won when a murderer is finally tried for the crime he committed. Of course, I am referring to the current court proceedings against George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin.

If our society has fooled itself into believing that this injustice has been resolved — if we continue to ignore the sheer magnitude of injustice exposed by the Trayvon Martin tragedy — this burst of nationwide activism will have been made in vain, just as it will be only a short matter of time before the next preventable casualty takes place.

When analysis is flawed, so will actions be. One might conclude that the injustice at hand was Zimmerman walking free. Now that he has been charged and may be convicted of something, many (understandably) will believe justice has been served; case closed. This popular perception is extremely shallow and dangerous.

The reality is that Zimmerman walking free was actually only one small component of the problem. Consequently, not only has the battle yet to be won, but the correct battle has yet to even be declared, let alone fought. Until we commit to eradicating the societal problem in its entirety — dealing with not only its fruit, but also its roots — nothing will change. To prevent this atrocity from recurring, we must push aside subconscious fears so that we can dive into a true, in-depth analysis of this strand of injustice.

Courage is also essential, because such an analysis entails peeling back the rug of insecurity that this country uses to veil all its ugly secrets. In the circumstances surrounding his death, nothing separates Trayvon Martin from any other Black male in America.

Trayvon was minding his own business when he was killed for “looking suspicious.” Under the same exact circumstances but with white skin, he would still be alive right now. This reality alone is sufficient evidence that this was a race issue.

No matter how much we do not want to admit this, avoiding the forbidden issue of race is detrimental to our society. Aaron Campbell, Oscar Grant, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Barry Deloatch, Steven Rodriguez, and Sean Bell are just a few names of other unarmed Black men shot to death by the police who, in most instances, ended up being cleared of all charges.

Treating the Trayvon Martin murder as a singular, arbitrary instance of injustice is avoiding the truth and doing nothing to help eradicate the problem. And the real problem, in its entirety, is not Zimmerman. As explained by Diane Nash, a leader of the Freedom Riders who greatly contributed to the eradication of segregation: People are never your enemy; it is ignorance, beliefs, unjust systems, etc. that are the problem.

Getting rid of the bad people will do little to solve the problem, as it will leave the corrupt system intact allowing the continued production of similar people. Do not misinterpret this. Of course murderers need to be incarcerated, and the Justice System must be forced to act, but that by itself is far from enough. Locking Zimmerman up will not bring Trayvon back to life, nor will it address the cause of his death — and merely voicing disgust for police brutality, racial profiling and injustice does not produce much change.

Society’s Phobia

The communities affected by the deaths of Aaron Campbell, Oscar Grant, and many others responded by holding demonstrations demanding justice, calling for the conviction of the killers and protesting police brutality. Reverend Al Sharpton and the ACLU got involved in some of these cases. Yet the list of victims continues to grow.

A much deeper investigation is necessary. Why did the police or vigilantes like Zimmerman kill innocent men? While some of these killers were overtly racist bigots consciously abusing their authority, some actually feared for their lives.

Why did they fear for their lives? It’s because America has a serious psychological disorder. And as long as we stubbornly refuse to move beyond the denial stage, we will continue contributing to our own demise. This country has been suffering from Black Male Phobia since its birth. It is about time we face this congenital illness so that the healing process can begin.

Black males’ attire, socioeconomic status and behavior are not the determinant factors in society’s fear. Size and shade of skin color  (biological factors outside their control) determine the amount of fear immediately felt by those in their presence. They could be trying to help their neighbor with her groceries, wearing the same exact outfit as the white boy next to them, or probably even knitting a scarf and they will be perceived as “shady” or “suspicious.”

The majority of our society is ill with Black Male Phobia, but I think it is safe to say that White America suffers from the worst case of it, despite the fact that they are four to five times more likely to be victimized by a white person than a Black person (see Tim Wise, Dear White America).

By medical dictionaries, “phobia” is defined as an obsessive, irrational, intense fear and considered to be a mental disorder when it interferes with social functioning. I would argue that the deliberate and desensitized killing of innocent people is evidence of major social dysfunction. Zimmermans will come and go, get incarcerated and released, but as long as we do nothing to eliminate this deadly fear, Black men will continue to be by far the greatest victims, as they are safe nowhere.

We need to stop acting as if justice were restored when the Justice System finally partially enforces its own laws under a great deal of pressure. Those who wholeheartedly claim to live in “the land of the free” and then argue that Trayvon should not have been wearing a hoodie that night should realize just how intelligent they sound.

Our country cannot, without showing our whole ass to the world, seriously argue that when a young Black male gets shot for the color of his skin it is “not a race issue” by citing irrelevant factors that the killer is half Latino or “has Black friends.”

For those of us who would like to identify as social justice activists: Let us not get caught up in superficial trends, such as taking a picture with one’s hood on for Trayvon Martin. And let us not only scream “Justice for Trayvon” or “Justice for Troy Davis,” lest we be filled with the same pain, screaming a different name in a couple months or years.

Let us call out to mend America’s broken psyche and to protect our Black men as we work to cure this debilitating illness that turns even kind, relatively non-racist, fairly intelligent men into murderers, and judges and jurors into complete imbeciles.

Let us do so expeditiously, because I know I’m speaking for many Americans when I say I’ll be damned if one of my loved ones ends up being next.

July/August 2012, ATC 159