The Zimmerman Verdict: The Message to Our Sons
My son told me the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Three simple words: “Mom, not guilty”. My 15 year old who has been watching this trial from the beginning. At first I tried to register if he was joking just to see my reaction. As I turned on the news, I stood quietly for such a long time, he had to ask me if I was ok.
My first thought was, “Are you ok?” I was shocked, disappointed and slowly became outraged. Until I looked at my son and realized that this wasn’t about me. It was about the countless “Trayvon Martins” who have died because of gun violence.
Let’s be honest, most of these deaths were black on black crimes and the growing crime rate in Chicago sheds light on the fragility of the life of young black males. As the mom of two boys: a teen and a toddler, I have a visual daily reminder of the developmental stages of black boys. While most adults coo and play with my toddler, they’re apprehensive about my 5’10 teen son. I look at my son through society’s eyes, I wonder if he will be approached by the NYPD for Stop and Frisk? At what point will women clutch their handbags and men shift uncomfortably when he steps on an elevator? At what point will he start thinking less about his comfort level and more about making others feel safe around him?
Jonathan Lethem asks in his book, The Fortress of Solitude, “What age is a black boy when he learns that he is scary?” Last night the bigger question became, “What age is a black boy when he learns the value of his life?” My son learned the answer to this question at 15 years old. When I asked him what he thought and felt about the verdict, he simply responded “I’m shocked”. As an adult, I was barely able to process the information, so I knew that he was still trying to make sense of it all. He summed up his thoughts in a simple Facebook post: “I guess Florida doesn’t care about the life of teenagers”.
His post made me look at the verdict through his eyes. He wasn’t thinking about the complexities of the judicial system or why the jury acquitted George Zimmerman. He was thinking about the value of his life. I thought about how Zimmerman’s defense attorneys gloated about their victory as if they’ve just won an NBA Championship. There was little remorse or respect for the life of Trayvon Martin.
Children are polarized thinkers until they become teenagers. At this point, the world is no longer black and white, so they start to question the areas of gray that don’t make sense to them. They start to question the integrity, intelligence and common sense of adults. How can we tell them to be fair and to think before you act, when we are guilty of doing these things.
How do we explain to them that Stand Your Ground Law gives an adult the right to kill a teen boy? How can we tell them that they are the future but we do little to protect that future?