Living While Black

black man walkingIt is a sensational story. An unarmed, black 17-year-old male is shot while walking in a residential neighborhood in which he was visiting while coming back from the store with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. The only thing that we are certain of is that the man who shot him thought that he looked suspicious, and that the man who shot him says that it was self defense.

The basic problem that I have is the willingness of so many to accept the assailant’s account of events as fact. Without the public outcry of the black community and some whites there were no plans to charge him with anything. This case should have always been headed for trial to determine the facts. You cannot kill someone and say it was self defense without offering facts to support your claim. That’s what is meant by an affirmative defense: “Yes, I killed someone but I had good cause.”

There is nothing cut and dried about Zimmerman‘s claim of self defense. There still has not been a medical report confirming the allegation that Trayvon Martin broke his nose. We don’t know that Trayvon initiated the fatal confrontation. He could have resisted Zimmerman’s attempt to detain him. On the 911 call, Zimmerman expresses his frustration with how “they” always get away. He doesn’t specify who “they” may be.

I find it of interest that the partial police summary clearly states that Trayvon was found face down. Was Trayvon on top when he shot him? He would have had to be on top to be banging Zimmerman’s head on the ground or was it the sidewalk? If Trayvon was on top and he was face down when the police arrived, did he fall over on Zimmerman when he was shot and Zimmerman wriggled out from under his body? No pun intended, but Trayvon would have been dead weight and wouldn’t it have been easier for him to push Trayvon off rather than slide from under Trayvon? And if he did push Trayvon’s body off, is it likely that Trayvon would have landed face down? I don’t know, but it’s something for forensic experts to consider and answer.

Why is there an assumption that Trayvon was obliged to treat Zimmerman as someone with authority? One thing that Zimmerman has not alleged is that he ever identified himself as part of the neighborhood watch to Trayvon.

Why is it that some people apparently have no problem with Trayvon being followed? Put yourself in Trayvon’s shoes. There is a strange man following you. You don’t know what he wants but he keeps following you. I would be wary and fearful and act defensively. How was Trayvon supposed to guess that Zimmerman was a member of the neighborhood watch and thought that he was thereby authorized to follow people?

Zimmerman lost track of Trayvon but was so determined to follow him that he got out of his vehicle to track him down. He alleges that he couldn’t find Trayvon and was heading back to his vehicle when Trayvon initiated contact with him.

Evidently, the right to defend oneself only applies to Zimmerman. Trayvon was followed by an adult male whom he did not know. For all he knew Zimmerman was a pedophile or a kidnapper or both.

Zimmerman states that Trayvon asked, “Do you have a problem with me?”  Why didn’t he identify himself as a member of the neighborhood watch and explain why he was following Trayvon? Instead, according to Zimmerman’s account, he shrugged off the question and indicated that he didn’t have a problem with Trayvon at which point, according to Zimmerman, Trayvon said, “Well, now you do.”

The majority of people have opinions on this case including those whose opinion is that the media has stirred up the frenzy about racism. Nope, living while black in this country is what makes some of us talk about racism as a factor in Zimmerman’s conclusion that Trayvon looked suspicious. That and the willingness of some to declare that Trayvon was a thug and offer as proof that he was suspended from school three times and may have smoked pot.

sheria reid

He wasn’t a thug; he was a teenager. But even if he were a thug, it doesn’t matter; he’s dead and Zimmerman killed him, and now he must show that he had just cause for doing so.

He will have a trial and a chance in a court of law to convince a jury that he shot and killed Trayvon for justifiable reasons. Trayvon cannot tell his side of the story. It is up to the District Attorney and forensic experts to make certain that his side of the story is told.

I’ve read stories that state that Zimmerman cries a great deal. So do Trayvon’s parents.

Sheria Reid
The Examined Life 


  1. Ssschacht says

    A brilliantly written piece to make us realize that the true problem with this case is the unwillingness of authorities to fully investigate what happened and why it happened.

  2. J Schacht says

    I totally agree with Ms. Reid. George  Zimmerman will get his day in court, I just hope all of the facts come out. It was Zimmerman who pursued Trayvon Martin, even after being told by the police not to.  Trayvon was not looking for a confrontation, but Zimmerman clearly was. I still find it hard to believe that Zimmerman is now out on bail. 
    Great article.
    John Schacht 

  3. Reggie Brown says

    As you indicate that you are black, I can only assume that you have intense identity issues mixed with self-loathing

    Wow. So if I think that misogynist rap music and glorifying gangbangers hurts us, then I hate myself or can’t relate to my culture? Wrong, missy. I despise heavy metal too. It’s a nasty sound and for the most part, a worse message. Does that mean I have identity issues with my white mother’s culture?
    Some of us know who we are without having to accept and glorify music and clothing styles just because they’re worn by other people with our same skin color. You can define our culture any way you want. I define who we are by wearing a suit and working in a professional job. My kids say “ask,” not “ax.” They also say “your,” not “yer,” which my mother’s generation rejected along with “y’all” and other southern white slang. And, no, rejecting our ancestors’ grammar doesn’t mean we’re sucking up to whites or ashamed of our ancestry. It means we actually prefer to sound literate and educated. I wear my pants up by my waist. Maybe my mama taught me that, or maybe it just feels better to be able to run without tripping on my baggies. But maybe now you’ll decide I’m just not black enough to really understand it all… Pfffttt.
    I happen to be open to the idea that Zimmerman created and escalated this situation, and perhaps even deliberately antagonized or even attacked Martin. I wasn’t there, and the witnesses so far are all over the board. But if there’s a possibility that Trayvon Martin may have done something wrong, and if glorifying a gangbanger mentality causes other young black men to make the same choices, then I’d like to see us, as a community, recognize that our actions may be part of the problem. Of course everyone has the right to dress the way they want. But do we have to silently accept styles and attitudes that hurt us in the end, just because some people say to reject them means rejecting our culture or loosing our identity?
    No. In fact, since you brought up rape, here is my analogy: A woman has the right to wear whatever she wants, as long as it is in the bounds of the law. But if she’s on the streets at 2 am in a pushup bra, tight skirt and high heels, and if some jerk attacks her, could she have avoided being raped by making different choices? That’s the key here. She has the right to dress that way, she has the right to be there, but was it smart? Did it serve her well? If she drinks herself silly or does drugs and ends up sprawled in an alley semi-conscious, can the rest of us look at what happened and suggest to our children that they make different decisions? No, I’m not saying her drug use is comparable to wearing a hoodie. I’m not against hoodies, but let’s not deny that criminals use them to hide their identity. So keep that in mind if someone is calling the cops on you. Maybe what you’re wearing and what your doing is part of the problem, and if it’s a mistaken impression you’ve given, it’s better to clear that up than to get fired up for a fight.
    Now, one more time, I don’t know what happened that night. Under Florida law, to be an aggressor, one must contemporaneously provoke the use of force to preclude self-defense. Specifically, section 776.041 “[s]ubsection (2) precludes the initial aggressor from asserting self-defense where he or she is the individual who provoked the use of force.” Following someone is not provoking. That is, following, profiling and pursuing someone does not provoke them punching you in the nose or banging your head into concrete, if that’s what happened.
    Crimes are composed of acts and culpable mental states. The 911 calls are compelling and my provide insight into the events that night, but they answer little from a legal perspective. As far as we know, no one saw the onset of the struggle. Professional voice analysis may provide an answer to who was calling for help, or there may not be sufficient information from that either. If Martin was screaming, Zimmerman’s claim of self defense goes out the window. If Martin was the aggressor for the physical confrontation, if he was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot, the State probably won’t be able to block Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. Even so, there are potential lesser offenses for second degree murder, including manslaughter and third degree (felony) murder. The State could also try to prove a nonhomicide lesser offense such as attempt, culpable negligence, felony battery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, battery or assault.
    Let’s let the justice system do its job, and meanwhile, I think we should stop portraying this incident as a racist whitey hunts down poor little black boy, unless that really is what happened.

      • Reggie Brown says

        Sad? What’s sad is when someone wants so desperately for everything to fit into the little black and white box they’ve created that they can’t imagine the possibility of any wrong doing on the part of someone with their same skin color. If someone with a different skin color is involved, why then it must be racist actions on the part of the white person.
        Once again, we don’t know yet what happened that night. And I’m not willing to assume either one of them was in the right, especially if that assumption serves to increase racial antagonism where it’s not warranted. I’d prefer to find out the truth so we can prevent the next Trayvon tragedy.

        • MARKETEX says

           Mr. Zimmerman, according to discoveries relating to the contents of a storage unit he once owned has more to explain regarding the pornographic nature of those contents.  It seems that he had a well developed interest in Black Males.

          • Reggie Brown says

            Yeah, and a pedophile would call the cops before attacking a kid, right?
            This is exactly the kind of ridiculous statement that is made and perpetuated when someone like Zimmerman is convicted in the court of public opinion before we have all the facts.
            I came into the Zimmerman/Martin case outraged by “what was going on” as reported by the media and commentariat, many of whom are my friends. After researching and thinking about this, what I now believe is 180 degrees different.

            • MARKETEX says

               “Yeah, and a pedophile would call the cops before attacking a kid, right?”

              Whoever said that anything done before, during or since the incident on February 26, by George Zimmerman, actually makes any sense?

              You seem to want more facts!  Well, you seem resistant to actual facts which I reported.

              A storage locker was found, where George Zimmerman is proven, by means of the video surveillance monitor, to have been a customer, and in that storage space designated as his a certain amount of material was found.

              ” ‘Being a neighborhood watch captain puts one in a unique position to be
              able to prowl for victims,” one official tells us. “Given the nature of
              the material we found in this storage unit, I would say it is quite
              possible that he was on the prowl for young black males.’

              Inside the storage unit believed to have once been rented by George
              Zimmerman, were sexually explicit DVD’s depicting various grades of
              fetish filth. But perhaps most alarming was one title, “Black Anal
              Fisting #55” in which actors even engaged in toilet plumbing hardware
              fetish acts. Most of the actors in the film were of African-American
              descent, leading some to wonder why a white man would have black porn in
              his storage unit.”Read more:

              I tried to make my post brief, and less glaringly appealing to prurient interests, but you just had to go there, didn’t you.

    • Sam Wise says

      Certainly if we were to measure anti-social acts based strictly on the race of the object of the animus then white people would be consider as dangerous to the survival of black people…

      You should learn to distinguish between the people who do you harm and those who don’t, even if their skin color happens to be similar. You want whites to not stereotype black people based on the worst members of that group, yet African-Americans usually categorize whites as “the oppressor” and continue to teach their children that the atrocities committed by a few are characteristic of everyone with white skin. Consider the number of white people who took a stand to end slavery, especially those who fought and died in our Civil War, compared to those terrorists who attacked and killed black people, and the numbers alone should convince you that white people aren’t inherently bad.
      Most of the violence between people throughout history has been committed by people whose skin color matched, including black skinned people in Africa. The thousands of years of intertribal warfare between African blacks was a far greater amount of violence than the small amount that occurred here in the US for a couple hundred years. Likewise, other ethnicities experienced the same pattern: most of the atrocities historically were committed by people within the same ethnic group.
      Here’s a short list of intra-racial atrocities that dwarfs the number of African-Americans killed in this country (M=millions of people):
      Congo Free State (1886-1908): 20M
      Armenian Genocide: 1MRussian Civil War (1917-22): 9MSoviet Union (Stalin’s regime 1924-53): 20MPeople’s Republic of China (Mao Zedong’s regime 1949-1975): 40MTibet (1950 et seq.): 600,000Hitler killed about 250,000 homosexuals, including German gays. Even that dwarfs the number of lynchings in this country. Not that they are acceptable, but when you start talking about patterns, intra-racial violence is far greater than interracial.
      People have been so desperate to make this Trayvon Martin tragedy all about racism that they are compulsively framing the incident as, “White guy hunts down and kills black child.” Anything that does not fit into that preconception is attacked, as are the commenters who put forth their ideas. Politicians, black leaders and media commentators who were spitting angry about racism were suddenly claiming the shooters race doesn’t matter when they found out Zimmerman wasn’t white.  

      Trayvon Martin’s father lived in the neighborhood with his girlfriend. Trayvon went to the store and was walking back to his father’s place when Zimmerman started following him.

      No, Martin was standing in front of someone’s house, which is why Zimmerman called to report his suspicious behavior. By making stuff up, you’re peptuating the myth created around this incident, which is: “Big bad white guy hunts down and murders innocent little boy just walking home from the candy store.”

      There is nothing in the police report about Martin approaching Zimmerman with his hand in his waistband. As a matter of fact, the police report indicates that Zimmerman alleged that he had his back turned and was walking back to his vehicle when Martin attacked him.

      It happens right at the beginning of Zimmerman’s call to the police. That’s before Martin took off running and long before the physical altercation occurred.

      ‘Under the law, if someone is following you, you are not justified in punching them.’
      “That’s a blanket statement and inaccurate. If Trayvon had a reasonable belief that his life was in danger, under Florida’s stand your ground law, he arguably had  a right to use deadly force.”

      Early in Zimmerman’s call to the police, Martin took off running. He was out of Zimmerman’s sight. Why didn’t he just go home while he could? Why come all the way back to confront Zimmerman? If he was mad at Zimmerman for suspecting him, and he returned to beat him up, then the Stand Your Ground law supports Zimmerman defending himself, because Trayvon Martin was being aggressive. You are not justified in physically attacking someone just because they followed you earlier. If you have already run away, you’re not legally justified in returning to attack the person who was watching you.

       The information regarding the hand in the waistband is uncorroborated information mention in a newspaper story.

      Incorrect. Again, this occurred early in Zimmerman’s call to the police. Listen to the tape again.

      I find you very offensive Mr. Brown.

      Wow, you’re offended by someone who is willing to look at the facts instead of believing the hysterical misinformation being perpetrated out there? This is exactly why race relations continue to suffer in this country. White people were very happy to vote for an African-American for president because it’s not his skin color that concerns them, it’s his attitudes and behavior. Obama is one of us. That is, he’s one of our country’s multiethnic, responsible, literate, educated people who cares about our nation. And he happens to have dark skin. We’re not color blind, we’re racially inclusive. If Obama sounded like an illiterate criminal, we wouldn’t have voted for him. Racism against African-Americans could have died out in the past 50 years if negative stereotypes weren’t continually being reinforced.

      There is nothing about our culture that justifies the taking of a life because anyone is made uneasy by someone’s style of walking or way of dressing.

      Of course not. But do you really think that’s what happened in the Trayvon Martin tragedy? Or is there the slightest chance that a young black man was so engaged in a phone conversation that he appeared to be acting strangely? People forget they’re in public when they’re talking on their phone and they sometimes even wave their arms around or pace back and forth if they’re in an intense conversation. Zimmerman might have misinterpreted Martin’s behavior, or Martin could even have been looking at a house because it looked nice, not because he planned to break into it later. Any of these scenarios could be true. Regardless of the original reason Zimmerman had for reporting Martin to the police, did Martin run away and then come back because he was mad for being called on? If he did so, was he angry that an apparently white guy had called him in? Was Martin raised to think white people are a bunch of racists? Was he taught to be antagonistic?
      The problem is that you and many others have already decided what happened, and you’re so determined to blame it on racism that you’re willing to risk the lives of other people by getting them so agitated they can’t see the truth even if it’s ever revealed. Sheria, how are you going to feel if Zimmerman is acquitted and then there are race riots. Will you feel justified if black people kill white people in revenge? Will you justify it because some white people killed some black people in the past? What about the future African-Americans youth who put themselves at risk because they’re being brought up hostile toward whites? Maybe Obama is the way he is because he WASN’T brought up being told that white people are bad.

  4. tnlib says

    The basic problem that I have is the willingness of so many to accept the assailant’s account of events as fact. Without the public outcry of the black community and some whites there were no plans to charge him with anything. This case should have always been headed for trial to determine the facts. You cannot kill someone and say it was self defense without offering facts to support your claim.”

    That has been my problem with this entire matter from the get-go. If the situation had been reversed, Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of walking away free as a bird after claiming self-defense based on this heinous law and certainly not based on his word alone. While investigations take longer than crime shows portray, I somehow don’t get the feeling there was any real investigation here at all until the public outcry and the subsequent media attention, which – by the way – happens to be their job. 

  5. YoLanda says

    Sheria, loved the exactness of the story as you explained the accounts on that night as told by Zimmerman and witnesses.  What saddens me the most is how I hear comments about mistakes Zimmerman made that night and how Trayvon must have been somehow responsible.  The lost of a young man’s life seems to have no value.  In America you cannot walk thru a neighborhood without be held accountable for all the crimes that had been committed by others… You must admit this is a sad time for us all… 

  6. says

    You raise a question that, with all my considering, I hadn’t really considered thoroughly: how Zimmerman must have seemed to Trayvon. No uniform, presumably nothing to identify Zimmerman as anything other than the very kind of dangerous thug he took Martin to be. 

    In the end, though, the (apparent) gross and willful failure of the law enforcement system in this case is most intriguing. And I’m nagged by the question of why Zimmerman was treated (again, apparently) differently. Had he been a useful police informant in the past?

  7. Joseph Maizlish says

    Even by Zimmerman’s account it  appears that Trayvon was the one with the priority claim to “standing one’s ground!”  But that’s rarely mentioned, most likely for just the reasons Reid gives for the general reaction. 

  8. Mark Olmsted says

     We KNOW a few things.  Trayvon was unarmed, and did absolutely nothing threatening to anyone prior to Zimmerman confronting him/. (It’s not as if the convenience store clerk claimed he stole the Skittles). Zimmerman followed him for the vaguest “reason” that he perceived him to be high (read: black) CONTRARY to direct instruction from the 911 operator. There was simply no reason for Zimmerman to confront Trayvon.  Once he did, any reaction from Trayvon would have been completely justified by the tenet of the Stand Your Ground law itself, as Zimmerman was defacto, threatening his life (armed and acting  aggressively toward Trayvon.) The Stand Your Ground law is being used to defend the wrong person.
    This is an open and shut case of murder for which the only explanation for Zimmerman not being charged is racial animus presuming against the black male. END OF STORY.

  9. Reggie Brown says

    The basic problem that I have is the willingness of so many to accept George Zimmerman’s account of events as fact.

    Making assumptions is usually not wise. Many African-Americans assumed George Zimmerman is a white racist who profiled Martin because he was black. Maybe he caught Zimmerman’s attention because he was a young male. Maybe because he was hovering near someone’s house. Perhaps he was casing the neighborhood, or maybe he was just walking back and forth or standing still as he talked to his girlfriend on the phone. My point is that most people just want to know what happened, but the media and protestors portrayed this incident with Zimmerman as a big old racist hunting down an innocent little kid. Is it possible that Martin was aggressive and confrontative because he didn’t like Zimmerman watching him? Under the law, if someone is following you, you are not justified in punching them. I don’t think Zimmerman should have followed Martin, I don’t think he should have been carrying a weapon, but I also don’t think Martin is justified in attacking Zimmerman, if that’s what he did. We don’t know for sure what happened, but listen to the 911 calls. Zimmerman sounds like he wasn’t sure the kid was black. When asked for a description of his race, Zimmerman said “He looks black.” One minute into the 911 call, Zimmerman reports that Martin was coming toward him, with his hand in his waistband. Was Martin already angry about Zimmerman watching him? I ask this not to blame the victim, but to understand what happened on both sides of this altercation that led to Martin’s killing. Because with knowledge, we can prevent future tragedies. That’s not to say we should accept Zimmerman’s account of the events that night, but the opposite, assuming that he’s a murdering racist out to kill black kids doesn’t help either. Most likely, he’s a hothead. But maybe so was Martin. If so, we need that information so we can teach our kids what NOT to do in a situation like this.
    If Zimmerman is found by a jury to be not guilty, will there be riots because of the misinformation being pushed by race whores like Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and many bloggers and news commentators? If Zimmerman tutored African-American children for free, then was his wariness of Martin based on Martin’s actions, or on the knowledge of what other young black men have done in that neighborhood? If that’s the case, can we acknowledge that our culture, especially the glorifying of the gangsta walk and talk affects how people of other races perceive us? Or are we so obsessed with forcing this incident into our little black and white box that we’ll never accept the truth about what happened? Or maybe never even get to the truth?

    Put yourself in Trayvon’s shoes. There is a strange man following you…

    I’ve put myself in Trayvon’s shoes. I’ve also talked to my kids about it and asked what they’d do in his situation. I’ve talked to them about how people’s beliefs interfere with their common sense. And I’ve talked to them about why stereotypes and racism persist even today. Do the people in that neighborhood believe that dark skinned people from India or China will break into their homes? If not, why not? Who has been breaking into homes in that area? Are stereotypes completely irrational, or is there any basis for experientially learned stereotypes? We’re not responsible for other people’s racism, but can our attitudes and actions CHANGE the situation we find ourselves in? In other words, how can we move forward to end racism? Certainly not by making this or any other situation other that what it is, which might just be two normally reasonable people who allowed their emotions to cloud their judgment with a tragic result.

  10. says

    Thank you Sheria for a well written piece .

    I hope this sort of thing ends during my lifetime , I live very near where the Pasdena Police Department murdered another young Black man recently  , this is disgusting and UN AMERICAN .

  11. Lewisp12121947 says

    Well said.  There are Treyvon Martins in every city.  We, the People, must assert our sovereign power and demand an end to racist violence and abuse of state power.

  12. Shaw Kenawe says

    Sheria, this is a wonderfully, clear explanation of why we should not accept anything about Zimmerman’s story on the events of that awful night.  There are many aspects of Zimmerman’s account, and what evidence exists, that doesn’t compute.  Indeed, we will wait to see how the prosecution goes forward.  Great writing!  Thank you for this.

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