I dated a girl who lived a few cities away. This was back in my youth. The drive there, by car, was about an hour. By bus, longer. Every Saturday, I’d walk to the bus stop at 6Am. And returned home every Sunday at midnight. A difference six hours makes, if you think about it. At six, I lingered the streets, pacing myself toward the bus stop. At midnight, I rushed home for fear of some unknown danger. I was eighteen, and I feared the darkness and all it held.
One autumn or winter night, I walked home wearing my signature black hoodie. Strapped to my shoulders, I carried my backpack carrying whatever my girlfriend sent home with me. A few houses away from my home, a beat up truck pulled along side me. The bearded driver stunk of cheap alcohol and failed machismo.
“Are you out robbing houses?” he asked twice as his slurred words fell awkwardly around me.
I’ve dealt with drunks my whole life. Ignore them and they usually go away. I shrugged and continued on.
“Hey! I’m fucking talking to you!” he barked. He roared the engine and the vision of him spinning the ninteen-eightysomething Ford pick up and gunning it in my direction filled with me dread. “Come back here so I can kick your ass!”
“Go the fuck home!” I called, continuing toward the house and hoping my fear didn’t get the better of me because I knew, even then, that running is an admittance to guilt. “You’re drunk and you need to go home!”
He revved he engined and continued to fire off obscenities until realizing I wasn’t going to play along. He idled too long at the yield sign. As I approached the driveway, he gunned his truck and vanished into the midnight street. And until 16 months ago, I never wondered or even catered the thought of how things would’ve played differently if he carried a gun.
I am not Trayvon Martin. My assailant, a drunkard, made no effort to pursue me that night. He made no attempt to get out of the truck. He didn’t even bother to phone 911 about my suspicious attire. What he did was continue on his drunken way. A drunkard made a better decision than a sober George Zimmerman.
Conservatives have mounted Zimmerman on the wall. The poster child of the misguided, vague stand your ground law. They pushed to vilify the victim. Trayvon Martin the thug. Trayvon Martin the thief, the junky, the expelled student. One reporter went as far as placing the blame on him because he wore a hoodie that night. They pushed and steered your attention away. They posted images of a high school teen posing with his middle fingers thrown at the camera. They spun his record to paint a boy with no actual future, ignoring the fact that because of George Zimmerman—their hero—Trayvon Martin is a boy with no future. Because of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin will never graduate high school. He will never attend college. Never start a career, meet a girl, get married, or have children of his own.
Instead of acknowledging any of that, my conservative friends have used Antonio Santiago as the face of true racial injustice.
As reported by Sherry West, Antonio Santiago’s mother, on 21 March 2013, 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang, 15, made an attempt to rob her as she pushed her son in his stroller down the street. When the attempted mugging failed, it resulted—according to West—in the fatal shooting of Antonio Santiago. Both Elkins and Lang stood before a judge. They were arrested for their crime. They will be tried as adults, despite their age. But, according to one conservative-made meme, neither will get a death sentence due to their age.
As of late, however, a Susan Smith twist is coming to light as both parents of the slain have tested positive for gun powder residue. Sherry West has reason for testing positive—she was shot, too. But what about Antonio’s father, whom West has stated wasn’t there?
It’s sickening that my conservative friends and so-called men like Robert Zimmerman Jr.—George’s brother—are using such a tragic tale to justify the slaying of an innocent young man. “Lib media,” tweeted Robert Zimmerman Jr., “shld[sic] ask if what these2[sic] black teens did 2 a woman&baby[sic] is the reason ppl[sic] think blacks mighB[sic] risky.”
But Trayvon Martin wasn’t mugging a woman or shooting a child. He wasn’t armed with a deadly weapon. He wasn’t antagonizing George Zimmerman. His only crime, according to Robert Zimmerman Jr.’s comparison, is being black and having a penchant for flipping off the camera (which I also did several times as a high school student). No, like me all those nights ago, Trayvon Martin was walking home. And like the drunk who approached me, Zimmerman carried a stench—not of alcohol or machismo—of cowardice, hate, and failure.
George Zimmerman, a man who once wanted to become a judge one day, stalked a young man. He instigated a fight. A fight he found himself losing. Because Trayvon Martin fought back. Because if Travyon didn’t fight—if he ran as so many of my friends insist was an option for him, it would be an admittance of guilt. So Trayvon Martin, taking Florida’s law (whether he knew it or not) to heart, stood his ground. And for that, he was murdered. And Zimmerman’s former dream came true. He stood there, smoking gun in hand, as judge and jury of a now futureless Trayon Martin.
I am not Trayvon Martin because I am alive. Because I graduated college. Because I became a parent. I am not Trayvon Martin because I have a future. Because I am not black. Because I’ve never truly been exposed to racism or prejudice outside high school norms.
I am not Travyon Martin because I know the system failed in giving him justice, a wrong I’m glad he’ll never know.
And I am not George Zimmerman, because, even though we’re both free men, his freedom is only an illusion.