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One Mom's Reflection on the Trayvon Martin Case

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 14:  People hold photos of Trayvon Martin at a rally honoring Martin at Union Square in Manhattan on July 14, 2013 in New York City. George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Martin July 13 and many protesters questioned the verdict.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

What a sad, strange trip this has been. As the not-guilty verdict came through in the Trayvon Martin case last Saturday, the rage and despair of centuries and centuries of injustice hit once again, and the tears came, hot and bitter. No justice for Trayvon Martin. As a mother, fear gripped my heart for my 20-year-old son, and the other sons of this country; young men simply trying to make their way home, whose lives could have just as easily been taken by an armed stranger who didn’t think they belonged.

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I hate to burst the bubble for anyone who thinks we live in a post-racial society, but quite frankly, we do not. This case sets a terrifying precedent. It feels as though we have somehow created an environment where there is no punishment for shooting an unarmed young man of color. This verdict has sent a message to this country that, sometimes, our sons can be taken from us and that their killers can get off without any legal repercussions. Nobody wants to hear this, because it’s so ugly and dreadful, but it means that in America there is less of a value placed on the life of an African-American. How can we protect our kids from the George Zimmermans of the world?

I am trying to see what I can do to turn my anger and sorrow into action. How many petitions can I sign? How many calls can I make? And how many rallies can I attend until I feel any better? Until I believe that I have secured some safety and justice for our children and others? There are just so many wrongs at play here. I see a civil and human rights atrocity, flaws in Florida’s legal system, irresponsible gun control laws, and the “needs improvement” state of race relations in this country.

I shudder and I hug my son a little bit tighter every time he leaves the house.

I imagine the fear my son would feel if a stranger in a car were following him on a dark night, and what could happen if he confronted that stranger. I shudder and I hug my son a little bit tighter every time he leaves the house. He understands, but he won’t let it rule his life.

In 1968, writer James Baldwin wrote these words: "To persuade black boys and girls, as we have for so many generations, that their lives are worth less than other lives, and that they can only live on terms dictated to them by other people, by people who despise them, is worse than a crime, it is a sin against the Holy Ghost." Baldwin was so wise. Did he imagine that the words he wrote some 45 years ago would still ring so painfully true today? He probably did. All of our children are gifts, and all of our children are worthy of fair treatment and respect. As parents, we must teach our children that they are the same as other children, that they have the same rights, and that they must be able stand up for themselves. We need to create a legal environment where these civil rights flourish.

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Lives shouldn’t be dictated by fear. I won’t guide my son in that direction, and I wouldn’t encourage other mothers to either, but we must take whatever steps we can to keep this from happening again and again. It’s a treacherous battle with no clear end in sight, but it’s one worth fighting for. The Department of Justice will reopen its investigation of Trayvon Martin's shooting death, and for this I am grateful, but Trayvon’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal are harsh reminders that we still have a long, long way to go. We need to do better.

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