Woke up this morning with a deep pain in my heart when I discovered that George Zimmerman was acquitted. We will find out in the next days and weeks just how much pain this inflicts. All I can think of is how I would feel if my Black grand daughter Avery, the light of my life, was a boy. A grandfather should never have to think such thoughts.
What’s makes the verdict all the more more painful is that the situation that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is one that is very familiar to me. I have walked in George Zimmerman’s shoes. I have been on block patrol in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I’ve escorted very tough kids off my block when they’ve come to cause trouble. I’ve run basketball leagues in tough neighborhoods where I’ve had to make peace with neighborhood drug dealers.
If that were me on patrol, nothing would have happened to Trayvon Martin. I would have approached him politely with an air of confidence and concern, as one physically confident person to another, showing him respect. And he, like the hundreds of the young people I have dealt with from comparable backgrounds, would have shown me respect back.
But this incident took a different turn because of what George Zimmerman brought to the table, with the result that a young life of promise was snuffed out. Why? Because Zimmerman was a scared, insecure man who needed a gun to establish his authority. If he were a strong confident person who knew how to speak to young people who came from tough neighborhoods, there would have been no conflict and no need for a gun. This is the basis of good police work as well as good youth work. The best police officers command authority without every having to use their guns.
One more comment, for those who say Trayvon Martin was a “wannabee thug.” I grew up in a neighborhood where many young people were “wannabee thugs,” including me. I survived that phase and went on to be a college professor. So when I run into “wannabe thugs” during my teaching and coaching, I relate to them well, since I was once one of them. We understand one another. There was no mutual understanding on that fateful night in Florida. If George Zimmerman had been more respectful, and more tolerant, and more secure, Trayvon Martin would have survived that encounter and lived a productive life.
Who knows, he might have even ended up to be a college professor like me.
With a Brooklyn Accent
Sunday, 14 July 2013