TUESDAY, OCT 1, 2013
Laws fail to effectively stop violent men or protect us — that’s why we have to stand up for ourselves
I am passionate about domestic violence, because I am a childhood survivor of domestic violence. I know all too well the ways in which men like my father, many of whom are themselves subjugated on the basis of race and class, use home spaces to assert dominance and control that they are not able to wield in the larger world.
I know intimately the terror of being under surveillance in one’s own home, of the prerogative that many men assert to control the comings and goings of their partners and children, often through the threat of violence and force. I have seen how difficult it is to stand your ground, when society is structured to give men economic and political control over private, domestic space. I know what the journey to survivor status looked like for my mother, and the way that my father’s violence demoralized him and ruined our relationship.
I think of the women survivors of gun violence that I personally know (and of the gun violence that snuffed out my father’s life at the age of 33, as he ironically tried to prevent another woman and her children from becoming the victims of domestic violence at the hands of another man).
I think of two high school classmates, a white girl named Mary Dee and a black girl named Jackie, both killed by fatal gunshots in murder-suicide scenarios involving their partners. I think of a class of first-year, college-age African-American women (18 and 19 year olds) that I taught several years ago, in which fully one-quarter of them admitted to having been in violent relationships in high school.
I think about all the stories that are almost too terrifying to remember and much too personal to confess.
Last week, a judge ordered a new trial for Marissa Alexander, a 33-year-old African-American woman from Florida currently serving a mandatory 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot into the wall to scare off her violent and abusive husband.
The new trial order comes just in time for our annual October commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it calls attention to startling new statistics released from the Violence Policy Center. In 2011, 1,707 women were murdered by men in single victim, single offender incidents. In 94 percent of these cases, these women were murdered by men they knew, and in 51 percent of the cases, they were murdered by guns. Sixty-one percent of these victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers. This means that intimate partner relationships constitute one of the most significant contexts through which women experience violence within our culture.
The disproportionate amounts of violence toward black women, who are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than their white female counterparts, were significant enough to warrant their own section of the report. In 2011, 470 black women were killed in single victim/single offender homicides. In cases where the relationship could be determined, 94 percent of black women knew their killers.
That number is entirely consistent across racial categories, because most violent crime is intraracial. On the one hand, that fact would seem to highlight the erroneous nature of designations like “black-on-black” crime, an incendiary term use to pathologize black people, while failing to acknowledge that among white people most crime is “white-on-white” crime.
Beyond the racially problematic dimensions of these kinds of demographic designations, there is the problem of gender. Black women are never the subject of either community or national discussions about “black-on-black” crime, which is largely focused on stopping the epidemic of homicidal violence among young black men. The invisibilization of black women from discourses about victims of violence makes it hard to actually see black women as victims.
In Marissa Alexander’s case, she inadvertently encountered her husband, a man against whom she had a restraining order, when she went to their home to retrieve her clothes unaware that he would be there. When he showed up, she felt threatened, went to her car to retrieve her gun, and then fired a shot into the wall in order to scare him away. Perhaps, this is why the judge also ruled that Alexander cannot use a “stand your ground” defense in her own trial.
The failure of the law to protect Marissa Alexander from her husband, who has admitted under oath to treating her violently, placed her in a difficult set of circumstances. There is no reason that she should be serving 20 years in prison for defending herself against a violent attacker. Yet, she was sentenced through a combination of overzealous prosecuting, by the same Florida district attorney, Angela Corey, who had to be convinced through national protests and marches to prosecute Trayvon Martin’s killer, and extremely punitive mandatory minimum sentencing laws that require some crimes in which a gun is used to carry a 20-year sentence.
Yet again, Angela Corey, and the Florida justice system in general, seem to have a hard time distinguishing victims from perpetrators.
In an ironic twist, Shellie Zimmerman, wife of acquitted killer George Zimmerman, has also had trouble finding any protection on the basis of Florida’s domestic violence laws. In early September, Shellie Zimmerman called 911 to report that George Zimmerman was brandishing a gun at her and her father, as she attempted to remove her belongings from their home after filing for divorce. Mrs. Zimmerman never saw the actual weapon, but instead observed her husband using threatening body language, while gesturing toward his waistband. She concluded that he had a gun, and since he is legally entitled to carry his gun after being acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder, that seems like a credible conclusion on her part. To date, no charges have been filed against George Zimmerman, even though this is not his first run-in with the law on charges of domestic violence.
Fifty-one percent of female homicide victims are killed with guns. In a world where women’s lives matter, robust gun control would be non-negotiable. But in a world where women’s lives don’t matter, Marissa Alexander doesn’t have any ground on which to stand, nor a fighting chance at freedom.
Lest folks convince themselves that these kinds of occurrences are anomalous, I would encourage you to spend some time this month talking to the women you know about the violence they have experienced at the hands of men in their own lives.
Marissa Alexander stood up for herself. She did not retreat. She refused any longer to take her husband’s shit. Unaided by laws that can effectively stop violent men in their tracks, all women survivors reach a point where they refuse to take it anymore. Even as we work to transform our culture of misogynistic violence into a world safe for women to inhabit, we must stand with and for those women who are standing up for themselves.
I haven’t had much to say about the trial of Trayvon Martin (yes he was the one on trial) because like many of you— this shit was emotionally destructive. What you may not know is me and Trayvon are from the same neighborhood. Literally. That I went to the elementary school and middle school that fed into Rachel Jeantel’s highschool of the same name. My brother went to Rachel’s high school, as did most of my friends growing up.
Had I not suffered from extreme anxiety that arose anytime I made a mistake, I would have gone to the same high school as Trayvon. The day I was to audition for their vocal program, I didn’t bring background music and after being chastised by the white woman organizing the auditions, I decided not to audition at all and lied to my mom about my rejection. I regret that.
So when I say this shit hits home, I mean it. It hit 197th Terrace in Miami Gardens, Florida. This hit home and it sucks. Because I know very well what comes out of North Dade and what died with Trayvon that night was a whole hell of a lot of potential and no conviction of George Zimmerman will allow us to see what Trayvon could have been.
But as much as this entire fiasco is about racism— it’s also about privilege. Privilege white people refuse to acknowledge and Black people can’t seem to communicate enough. No doubt that the privilege with roots in racism played a role in the trial… but, it’s not enough to say, things would be different if the races were reversed. People never want to deal in the what ifs… and no one seems to want to touch racism with a 10 foot pole. Though the acts are no doubt racist at the root, I rather be effective than right- so I need to acknowledge these things in a way people can digest.
White privilege is being able to live your life as a white man for all intents and purposes and become Hispanic when denying you are racist. That same privilege allows you to not know the difference between race and ethnicity. Privilege involves always getting the benefit of the doubt… because you are trusted.
No matter how ridiculous it might sound that you disobey an order by an emergency professional, and shoot someone to death for nothing really. Privilege is like that. Privilege is about the right to be an individual. That no matter how heinous crimes are that white people are accused of, no one looked at George Zimmerman and thought of Dahmer, or Bundy, or Gacy. No one diagnosed his anger issues, his insecurity, or overzealous nature as something indicative of a propensity to commit violence again. But when you’re Black, you are everyone else. Because, violent and mischievous Black teenagers exist, it was okay for Zimmerman to assume Trayvon was one. And because we don’t ever exist as individuals, then Trayvon becomes at fault for his own murder. Black children can’t make mistakes, white adults can.
Whenever there is an instance of one account versus another, the account of a White person is always more true. It’s the reason that I pull out my whitest voice possible when making any customer service transaction over the phone. When you’re white, you are you— when you’re Black you’re all of us, and all of us, are bad Black thugs. I don’t even like the premise that Trayvon could have gone to college and been a “good nigga.” Don’t show me a picture of another teenager with baggy pants and then with a graduation cap 10 years later… because, Trayvon wasn’t wronged because he could have been a college graduate and traded in his hoodie for a bowtie. Trayvon was wronged because he was here. We are wronged not just because we aren’t afforded individuality, we are wronged because someone believes they can determine the value, or lack thereof, of Black lives.
Privilege is when there is outrage about a white terrorist who makes the cover of Rolling Stone after killing white people in a horrific display of inhumanity. But awkward white boys with backpacks across the world will continue boarding planes, going hiking, being publicly intoxicated, and playing violent video games without so much as a nod in their direction. They will go to school without being tracked, and they will drive cars freely without being stopped. Privilege on privilege is when people are outraged he made the cover and not at the article that promises to tell us how a “popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster.”
No one is troubled by the suggestion that the Boston Marathon bomber was failed by his family and became a monster and Trayvon was supported by his family and born one. Privilege is telling Black people these things are not related in a world where everything is. Privilege is failing to understand the very real physical and psychological damage privilege and racial microaggressions cause. Since I have gotten a new car, I’ve been pulled over three times- more than in almost 10 years of driving. Privilege is when seeing the police is a sign of relief and not one of anxiety.
This discussion about racism will never be valuable if the subject matter and those discussing it are always the oppressed. It will never be valuable if we keep saying people who do racist shit are not racist because they are nice people. The cop who stopped me for “rolling through a stop sign” was a fucking racist. Why? Because he wanted to know where I was going, how long I owned my car, and asked to see my license and registration even though by his own admission, “everyone who comes to that sign always does the same thing.” And maybe he volunteers at his church or takes care of his sick mother and I’m supposed to believe he can’t be racist because he’s a nice person. Well, like people we love are addicts, or thieves or liars— we can love racists. And while we pity him, it is me who has PTSD from being followed in the dark, humiliated, scared, and even as a civil rights attorney well aware that I was stopped for DWB in a nice car, I had to be non threatening and apologetic for a stop that I know was complete bullshit because I wanted to make it out alive.
And anyone whose privilege won’t allow them to recognize that fact, I suggest they ask Trayvon Martin how the decision to defend or be offended is so often a life or death one. I have no doubt Zimmerman spent his life relishing in microaggressions that were dismissed as non racist, and of people being too sensitive or obsessed with being politically correct. But the reality is, many microaggressions make for one big ass MACROaggression and a whole helluva lot of Trayvons. The running theme is, they are not like us, they are dangerous and they are all the same. So long as I have a Black friend, I can’t possibly have ever caused harm to another Black person. And if engaged in a fist fight with a black person, I must use a gun because the pure brute strength of the Black African makes any object in the universe a weapon. We can be armed with fresh air so it’s best to suffocate us all if given the chance.
And suffocate us they do, bit by bit. While we march for Trayvon and pack theaters to watch Fruitvale, I encourage everyone to call out these microaggressions and deconstruct the myth of Black inhumanity. We are human when we are born, not because we go to college, or because we wear bow ties. We are worthy because we are here.
gone agape is a blog that is centered around understanding the world with love as a compass. to go agape is to BE love. agape (uh-gop-ay) is the most divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful love.
to go apape is also to be open, and to find freedom in being honest about who you are. we may not always like what we find, but we must love it. and sometimes that means repairing the most broken parts of us. every post is a chance to challenge everything we have been taught, and unlearn when necessary. you don’t always have to agree, but you do have to be open to the process.
by Dr. Ron Daniels
In a recent article I called for economic sanctions against Florida to compel business and political leaders in that state to change the “Stand Your Ground Law” which provided the basis for the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. There are times when there is a convergence of ideas, a meeting of minds, such that a particular strategy has the potential to galvanize a movement to achieve a major victory. It appears that such a convergence of ideas has occurred around at least one strategy to translate the anger and frustration over the Zimmerman verdict into justice in the Trayvon Martin tragedy – Economic Sanctions/Boycott Florida. The idea is not a Ron Daniels idea or Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) call but one that is on the minds of Black people all across the country.
Just as Katrina ripped the scab off and exposed the raw naked structural/institutional racism in distressed Black neighborhoods in America like those in New Orleans, the murder of Trayvon Martin has ripped the scab off the persistent phenomenon of the criminalization of young Black men, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk and the structural/institutional racism in America’s criminal justice system. The problem is that despite episodic protests and periodic mobilizations, there has not been a persistent sense of urgency in Black America about these issues. The murder of Trayvon Martin may be a decisive turning point.
One week after the Zimmerman verdict, rallies and prayer vigils were held across the country to demand that the Justice Department bring criminal charges against George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights. While we agree that this is a righteous strategy, there is a high probability that the Justice Department will not find sufficient racial animus in the proceedings to justify bringing charges. However, even if the Justice Department does find sufficient cause to bring charges, I contend that the economic sanctions/boycott Florida campaign is necessary.
At the end of the day, not only must we seek a conviction of Zimmerman, we must also indict and fight to change the law that is so flawed that it would permit an armed adult to pursue an unarmed teenager deemed “suspicious” and permit a grown man to kill a kid who fearfully sought to stand his ground against a menacing stranger. Fighting to change this flawed law is about justice for Trayvon Martin, but it is also about all of the Trayvons in the state of Florida and across the nation who are victims of criminalization and racial profiling. It is about Black people consciously and collectively standing our ground against the attacks on the gains of the civil rights/human rights/Black power movements, the abandonment and disinvestment in distressed Black communities and the daily indignities we have quietly suffered for far too long. In his last speech the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King urged Black people to use boycotts to achieve justice. He said, “now we must kind of redistribute the pain.” As IBW said in its Press Release on this issue, “Blacks and all people of conscience and good will should inflict some non-violent pain on the state of Florida and keep inflicting it until business leaders and the politicians scream for help and plead for the economic sanctions to be lifted.” But, to achieve our goal we need a targeted (not scattered/shotgun) approach to succeed.
The major component of the campaign should be to shut off tourism to Florida. This means Black organizations should not schedule conferences/conventions in that state until the law is changed. Groups that have already scheduled conferences six months to a year out should seek to cancel the agreements and notify the venues that Black people no longer feel safe to travel to Florida, particularly with their sons. An option is to hold conferences/conventions at a Black College/University or Black owned retreat centers. In the event that your conference is already scheduled in the next few months, resolve to spend as little money/cash in the state as possible. This campaign requires that kind of discipline.
Do not schedule a vacation in Florida until victory is won. Do not travel to an amusement park in the “tragic kingdom” or golf tournament until victory is won. At the NAACP Convention, Martin Luther King III urged the delegates not to buy Florida orange juice. In conversations with Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and George Fraser, President/CEO, FraserNet, they advised that refusing to buy Florida orange juice is an excellent way to “democratize” the economic sanctions/Boycott Florida campaign by creating an avenue for ordinary people everywhere to participate in the effort whether they had planned to travel to Florida or not. So, here’s a set of marching orders:
• No Conferences/Conventions
• No Vacations
• No Amusement Parks or Golf Tournaments
• No Florida Orange Juice
We also hope the major civil rights leaders will embrace this righteous campaign and mobilize their constituents to actively support it. The people are ready and the train is already leaving the station. IBW has posted a petition on its website http://www.ibw21.org where organizations, leaders and individuals can Sign a Pledge to Boycott Florida. Finally, while this campaign is spearheaded by Black people, we obviously appeal to and welcome the support of our friends and allies of all races and ethnicities who believe that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” that “an injustice anywhere to anyone is an injustice to everyone everywhere.” Economic sanctions against Florida is an idea whose time has come!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website http://www.ibw21.org and http://www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
“How shall integrity face oppression? What should honesty do in the face of deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? How shall virtue meet brute force….” The Ordeal of Mansant – W.E.B. DuBois
Last week President Obama addressed the Zimmerman verdict and the ugly reality of racial profiling. He spoke through the White House press corps to the American people. He spoke forcefully and with surprising candor and empathy. He was measured in his tone and verbiage; clearly understanding that just one wrong word or improper inflection would ignite a firestorm of reaction.
For the sake of this piece I will not take issue with anything the president said. I agree with most of what was presented. In his 2,156 words the president spoke volumes of truth. He said what needed to be said and it needed to be said by him. This was the perfect example of a president using the power of the bully pulpit to its fullest. He placed into context, informed, and educated the country about a very sensitive reality that far too many don’t understand and/or have chosen to ignore.
The president was correct to state, “You know… Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago…I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.” He went on to say, “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a Senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.”
What made the president’s remarks so powerful was the fact that he told America that the history of racial profiling is his history; the experience is real because it’s his experience. The community’s outrage, anger, and frustration are based in a context and reality that is shared byhim and cannot be ignored.
The president went on to say,”The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”
The president could not be more correct. That history not only impacts how the African American community has viewed the Zimmerman verdict, it impacts our everyday lives. It is not only a prism through which one interprets reality; it is reality! There has been “a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws”. An example of this recent history can be found in New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly’s “stop-and-frisk” laws.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), New York Police Department (NYPD) officers have stopped more than 4 million New Yorkers since the Department began collecting data on the program in 2004. The latest stop-and-frisk report shows that the NYPD stopped and interrogated New Yorkers 152,311 times between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2011. About 88 percent of those encounters did not result in arrests or tickets. Nearly 85 percent of those stopped were Black or Latino.
So, earlier last week while the country was grappling with the Zimmerman verdict and the president was preparing his remarks, he contradicted himself by endorsing Commissioner Kelly “as a worthy candidate” to succeed Janet Napolitano as head of the Department of Homeland Security. The President stated on Univision – that “Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,” and that the police commissioner is “one of the best there is” — an “outstanding leader in New York.” The president went on to say, “Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is. But if he’s not I’d want to know about it. ‘Cause, you know, obviously he’d be very well qualified for the job.”
We all understand; it’s not what you say it’s what you do. Actions speak louder than words.
NY neighborhoods with the highest number of stop/frisk interrogations included Inwood/Washington Heights, Central Brooklyn, Far Rockaway, Eastern Queens and the North Shore of Staten Island – all low-income neighborhoods of color. Whites, who represent 33 percent of the city’s population, accounted for less than 9 percent of people stopped. During the third quarter of 2011: All five precincts with the fewest stop-and-frisk encounters were concentrated below 59th Street in Manhattan and are majority white.
I suggest that a police department that was on pace to stop and interrogate a record number of totally innocent New Yorkers is operating outside of the moral and constitutional ideals that it was created to protect. When you have a department that during the first three quarters of 2011 stopped totally innocent New Yorkers 451,000 times – the overwhelming majority of whom were Black or Latino you as a citizenry have a problem. If Ray Kelly were empowered to implement NY style stop-and-frisk policies nationwide coupled with the use of drones and NSA style wiretapping and the PRISM program, America would have a serious problem than it has today.
The president spoke very powerfully and eloquently about the history of and problems with racial profiling in America. I listened very carefully to what he said and then compared it to what he is supporting. “How shall integrity face oppression? What should honesty do in the face of deception…?” The actions speak louder than the words.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirisu/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon” Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:email@example.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com
© 2013 InfoWave Communications, LLC
The prosecution needed to represent Rachel Jeantel as much as they represented Trayvon Martin because her assumed unintelligence and subsequent worthlessness were inadvertently assigned to him. Aware of this, prosecution attorney Bernie de la Rionda attempted, but failed, to insist upon her credibility in his closing statements. Before queering a Dr. King quote by saying that she “should not be judged by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony,” he told the jury that she was “a little unsophisticated” and “uneducated.”
By insulting her to gain credibility, he complied with the idea that she was insignificant and by default, so was Martin’s life. Such inherently assumed superiority over Jeantel from the prosecution’s closing statement, the defense’s humiliating tactics and venomous commentary from cyber voyeurs was deeply remnant of a passage from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in which Morrison stated:
All of us—all who knew her—felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us; her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.
Afraid to embrace those realities, many dwelled on their critiques of Jeantel’s dialect. Here, too, there was a deep politic that neither the talented-tenth, code-switching middle class Black folks who claimed to be ashamed by her nor those who maintained the racist ideology that she was merely another ignorant, fat black woman, could bear to acknowledge. James Baldwin’s 1979 essay, “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What is?” best presented this truth where he states,
…language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.
He further explains,
Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other–and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize [them]. People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.
Just as many have never considered that Trayvon Martin, who we know for a fact was followed by George Zimmerman, was standing his own ground, many who shared Juror B-37’s condescending viewpoint and “felt bad” for Rachel who was “using phrases [they] never heard before” have not considered themselves ignorant for not understanding her. Those same individuals may never challenge the absurdity of having deemed themselves the standard of comparison; nor will they realize that they misnamed her “uneducated” in order to hide from the paralyzing fear of a heavy-set, dark skinned teenager unwilling to bow to their assumed superiority.
Rachel Jeantel cannot be reduced to just a witness in a popular trial because what she endured in court and from the media were private acts made public: the mocking and silencing of black women and girl’s stories as well as the devaluing of their traumas. In response to critics, Jeantel shared with Piers Morgan that “[My critics] should be appreciating [me]. You should learn from this situation. If it happened to you or your family, would you step up or would you just say ‘oh, it ain’t my business’?” To my mind, she has remained brilliant and strong in spite of the overwhelming grief of losing a friend and then being publicly labeled as ignorant–as a national embarrassment–because she, like James Baldwin, knows that “it is [never] the black child’s language that is in question, it is not [their] language that is despised: It is [their] experience.”
By DENENE MILLNER
He’s 6 ft., 250-plus lbs quite imposing next to my 5′ 2 frame and can bench just shy of 300, which means that if he felt like it, he could flick me like a flea. Lucky for me, I’m his stepmother, and at the very least, he withholds his laughter when I crane my neck, fold my arms, put on my mean mug, and tell him, I can still take you.
Out on the football field, though, my 16-year-old son takes no shorts; as a nose tackle, he’s charged with taking on two, sometimes three opposing players at a time. This requires an incredible amount of mental fortitude and swagger both of which my 16-year-old son has in abundance, especially when he’s making his way to the line of scrimmage. Take a good hard look at him on the 50-yard line, and it’s easy to get it twisted: He looks like an angry, aggressive, big, black jock a guy who crushes the opponent on the field, and off the field, probably doesn’t put much effort into much more than football, girls, and black boy shenanigans.
I don’t know if this is what one of his team’s assistant coaches had on his mind recently when he called the boy over to take a look at his class schedule. Mazi handed it to him and shifted nervously from foot to foot, his mind on who knows what. I can only guess what he expected to find, but when that coach looked at Mazi’s schedule and then back up at Mazi, I could see in his eyes that his perception of who my boy is was completely, forever changed.
See, what that coach wasn’t expecting to see is this.
That’s Honors Physics. Honors Algebra. Advanced Placement Psychology. Honors Language Arts. And Mechanical Drafting the first in a series of courses that’ll put Mazi on firm footing toward becoming an architect. Peep the grades: All A’s, and one B. He’s number 44 in a class of 546 and still climbing.
The boy is bad—smart as hell, incredibly sweet, helpful when he wants to be, and pretty easy to get along with. We argue the musical merits of Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, and Rakim, reminisce over our favorite scenes in Biker Boyz, discuss on the regular whether he’s going to Yale, Harvard, or Princeton, and sometimes he even comes to me in confidence to discuss how to negotiate his tenuous relationships with the cute but fickle little girls he dates.
He is a normal boy.
A brilliant boy.
A college-bound boy.
A sweet boy.
A black boy.
And every time that child leaves this house, I fear that someone will look at him, his size, his skin color, his swagger, and see what they want to see, and not who Mazi is. Not a day goes by without us warning him to be respectful, to watch his tone, to be extra vigilant when approaching people in his path. And last week he got his license and bought himself a car with the cash he makes as a lifeguard, which of course means that now when he snatches his keys and heads for the door, I’m a nervous wreck thinking that he’s going to get stopped by the cops.
I have good reason to be nervous for him, you know. In just the past week, three—THREE!—black men have been shot, two killed, by the police. Adolph Grimes, III, 23, was shot 12 times in his back, 14 times total, on New Year’s Day as he made his way to a family party in New Orleans; Oscar Grant, 22, was shot by a transit officer while he lay face down and handcuffed on a train platform; Robbie Tolan, 23, is recovering from gunshot wounds to his liver and lung after being shot in his own driveway by a Houston police officer who accused him of stealing his own car. Of course, stories about the shootings abound, and in Oakland, more than 100 protesters were arrested as they took to the streets to demand justice for Grant. Organizations like The Color of Change are speaking up on behalf of the victims, and demanding we do the same, while radio personalities like Warren Ballentine are using their syndicated radio shows to keep the stories fresh on the minds of black folks.
Still, after the roar dies down, after the police officers get off (they almost always do), after we commit the victims’ names to the long list of young black men who’ve died or been abused at the opposite end of a police officer’s gun/night stick/bathroom plunger (Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Abner Louima. Patrick Dorismond. Michael Carpenter. I could go on and on and on), who will stop the same from happening to my stepson?
How do I protect my normal, brilliant, college-bound, sweet, black boy?
The urge to protect him will never leave me, this is the unfortunate rite of passage of every parent of a black boy. Once they are big enough and old enough to move out into the world without us holding their hands or watching over them, they are going to be vulnerable to the biases and misperceptions and stereotypes and downright hatred of an overwhelming number of cops, transit officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement officials who will cross our children’s paths over the next 40/50 years of their lives. I suppose the best we can do is hope that one day Mazi will put in enough years so that he can have the same worry about his own child as we have for him.
Note: To add your voice to the petition calling for a proper investigation into the Oscar Grant shooting, click here.