I promised myself that I would stay away from this subject because upon bringing it up, regardless of which side you take, it seems to awaken a deep anger in people. An understandable anger because a child is dead and an adult who is still breathing is also dead.
Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old is walking around in the rain. It’s dark but not late. He lives in Miami and is visiting Sanford with his father and step brother.
George Zimmerman, ten years Trayvon’s senior. George is the captain of the Neighborhood Crime Watch. He has spotted Trayvon and based on the fact that there have been burglaries in that area by a young black male, he decides to keep an eye on him and call police.
I watched this trial minute by minute. I stayed away from any prior coverage by Nancy Grace and friends who tend toward sensationalism. I was interested in the facts, which none of the correspondents had until the trial, like me.
It was easy to predict what the jury was going to come back with and yet I found such surprise in the community at large.
We need to wake up and see that this was more than just a legal case. This is a human case. It is a case of prejudice and hardwired behaviors.
You see Trayvon grew up in Miami and was currently living in Opa-Locka. I am familiar with both. I’m going back some time but Opa-Locka was a neighborhood that no one wanted to even drive through, especially if they were white. I don’t know much about Trayvon personally, but I do know a bit about his environment.
I used to live in Northwest Miami, just south of Opa-Locka. I worked in Coral Gables. In between Coral Gables and Northwest Miami is Overtown. No white person drives through Overtown because it was too dangerous. Anything could happen to you in there. So to get to the Northwest of Miami from Coral Gables, I had to drive around Overtown and go miles out of my way to get there.
One afternoon I decided that I would take my chances and drive through Overtown to get home faster. I wasn’t a block into the sector of danger before I was pulled over by the police. The officer asked me what I was going in there for. I explained that I was tired of driving miles out of my way and I was cutting through from now on.
The officer asked me if I was tired of living. He asked me that because he knew what I knew. He knew that the minute I was identified as white I was a target and probably as good as dead. He ordered me to turn around because no officer would go in to save me when hell broke loose.
I did as the officer asked and decided to never risk my life that way. I couldn’t help but be angry.
How could this be America?
I wondered if a small white city in Alabama began to kill, maim, and rob blacks as they came through town what would happen. Would the police stop blacks and tell them that they are not safe in there and that they could not protect them? No. They would probably post the National Guard to keep them safe.
This is where Trayvon learned to live among the world.
George Zimmerman is a “white Hispanic” as he would be called. He was known in his community as the only person to welcome a new neighbor, whether black or white.
The Sanford community in which he resides as you can see from the footage of news reels was a racially fluid community, mostly black with Hispanics and fewer whites.
So what happened?
If you ask the black community they will tell you that George was a racist looking to gun down a black man that night.
If you ask the white community they will tell you that Trayvon was a thug who hated white people and was looking to beat the crap out of a white guy that night.
So who’s right?
In my opinion, they are all way off.
As I see it we are hardwired by our environments.
There is no doubt in my mind that Trayvon had some aggression toward whites. That wasn’t his fault. He may or may not have had personal experiences with the prejudice and racism that his ancestors had to endure, but I guarantee that he heard much of it.
I have been deep in these neighborhoods where the elders are the ones screaming at me to get out.
Trayvon was shot by George but he was killed by his environment. What I mean by that is that the people of his community probably never gave him the impression that he had a chance in the world. He was probably told most of his life that white people are determined to keep the black man down.
What about George?
What we know about George through the trial was that he wanted to be a cop. He wanted to learn to fight. In the words of his personal trainer he was “soft.”
The evidence of the case showed that George had been beaten up and that the only injuries to Trayvon were scraped knuckles, which lead you to assume that Trayvon did beat up George as his statement says.
I questioned why. Why did Trayvon not go straight home? Why, if he was scared was he talking to some girl in Miami instead of 911?
Again I say that our training will answer this. Trayvon obviously didn’t trust the police. Like many in his community think, calling the police is bad. He was wired to be aggressive, especially when he was scared.
George was scared too. He was scared for his community who had seen their fair share of break ins and violence. He was sure that a young black male, wearing a hoody, wondering aimlessly in the rain was up to no good.
So here we had two individuals with very wrong ideas about one another.
The tragedy is that Trayvon is dead. The other tragedy is that we blamed each of these individuals for what happened that night.
It is our fault. Every racial slur, every prejudice remark and every time we say “those people” we are feeding the tragedy.
If we were truly impeccable with our words we could stop the thread that continues to shape the same cloak that we live under.
We say in one breath that we want to live together, but we don’t.
If we are to live together then we have to begin training our communities.
We can’t say us and them and still expect anything different.
It is hard to break down the wiring that has been running this machine for so long, but it is not impossible.
I’m going to quote a crazy man. This is what Charles Manson said on the stand about why he was in the place where he was.
“I never went to school, so I never growed up to read and write too good, so I have stayed in jail and I have stayed stupid, and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and then I look at the things that you do and I don’t understand. . . . “
“I can’t dislike you, but I will say this to you: you haven’t got long before you are all going to kill yourselves, because you are all crazy. And you can project it back at me . . . but I am only what lives inside each and every one of you.”
“My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system. . . I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.”
“I have ate out of your garbage cans to stay out of jail. I have wore your second-hand clothes. . . I have done my best to get along in your world and now you want to kill me, and I look at you, and then I say to myself, You want to kill me? Ha! I’m already dead, have been all my life. I’ve spent twenty-three years in tombs that you built.”
I was eight years old in 1970 when Charles Manson made these statements. I never forgot it. I acknowledged that this was a crazy man, but he made sense to me. He was right and it took me a long time to decipher his message.
Here we are forty three years later and the reflection is the same.
Forget sides. Forget race.
This tragedy is cemented in society’s ills regarding people who don’t look like us.
I am a Hispanic that doesn’t look Hispanic. I have been discriminated against by Hispanics who thought I was American and I have been discriminated against just the same by those who saw my last name before meeting me.
So I know the injustice of racism personally. I know both sides well enough to know that we have got to stop training our communities to exclude anyone because of color or religion or anything else that makes them different than us.
In the end we should realize that it didn’t matter.
We don’t. That is because we are so stuck in the hardwiring of our prejudice that no truth can pierce it.
We take these extreme sides based on our skin color. Even on the network news, with few exceptions the whites are on George’s side and the blacks side with Trayvon.
We must see this.
This incident is a reflection of us. It reflects “our” thinking. It reflects how we talk to and about one another.
Charles Manson is crazy, no doubt.
He understood what we are doing.
We don’t understand what we are doing.
Are we so hardwired that we can’t change it?
This is the cusp of change.
Close your eyes, sometimes they get in the way of your ability to see.
If it’s uncomfortable to be non-racist at first, then “act as if” until the change occurs.
That is, if you truly want Unity and Harmony among us.