Trayvon In The Photo & Ourselves In The Mirror

I was working last Friday afternoon, finishing up a bit of writing for an e-book I hope to publish with Gozamos, when I came across a disturbing photo being circulated through social media. In it, the body of a 17-year-old black boy lies belly up with eyes wide open, mouth agape, and legs crossed at the ankles. It’s the body of Trayvon Martin, a boy stalked and shot down in the rain by George Zimmerman.

I was shocked to see the photo, to see the dead body all of America has been talking about since that fateful Florida night in February 2012. It’s easy to say someone has died, but when you come face to face with the lifeless corpse, the face shrouded in death, it makes the fact all too real.

Trayvon’s death and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman was an important moment in American history — or at least in the history of my generation. I’m too young to remember the Rodney King beating and its aftermath. Yet, unlike King, who was in a high-speed chase with LAPD, Trayvon was seemingly innocent of any wrong doing whatsoever, armed only with Skittles and iced tea. And while King escaped with a severe beating, Trayvon didn’t escape at all.

Having come across a photo of such historical importance, I decided to posted it to the Gozamos Facebook page as an admin, with the simple yet poignant caption “America.” I interpreted my own message in two ways: first, to say that this is what America is and what it looks like, and second, to force the readers to ask themselves if this was an acceptable fact of life in the country they live in and, hopefully, love as dearly as I do.

My decision to post the picture proved to be as controversial as everything else I do. Nearly all of the editors at Gozamos were upset that I hadn’t consulted them first before posting such a disturbing photo. Their first thought was to take down the photo and issue an apology to the Facebook subscribers. I argued against that idea, and we eventually decided to issue a follow-up post asking the readers if posting the pic was a good decision.

I’m glad to see that the general consensus seems to agree that, while the photo is extremely disturbing, it’s necessary and proper for media, especially minority media, to provide the public with such harsh images and facts.

Personally, I don’t trust someone who hasn’t seen the photo of Trayvon’s dead body and doesn’t want to. They’re running from something of crucial importance in our nation’s history — whether a multicultural democracy can truly thrive, or whether it’s just a pipe dream. The photo doesn’t contain a full answer, but it contains the seed of one.

I spent my Saturday at Six Flags with my family. The day was filled with sun and excitement, and I was filled with funnel cake when the verdict was announced over the radio during the car ride home that night. “Not guilty.” My heart dropped faster than some of the roller coasters we’d just ridden. My wife, who had been following the trial more closely than I had, was in a state of shock and disgust. “Are you fucking serious?” was her immediate reaction, and it seems to be the most popular one among most people I know.

My sense of justice is that of one person acting outside the bounds of society and the people taking action to correct his action and its effects. Trayvon Martin was walking home. George Zimmerman spotted him and falsely suspected him of wrongdoing. Zimmerman called 911, who told him to stay in his car. Not only did Zimmerman not do what he was told, but he then followed and approached Trayvon. Something happened, and Trayvon was shot in the heart at near point-blank range by Zimmerman’s gun.

Now, if you ask yourself, “who is more responsible for the death: Zimmerman, or Trayvon himself?” the answer is clear. And if the Stand Your Ground rule had been applied properly, Zimmerman would be rotting in the ground as I write this.

There are plenty of issues to discuss in the wake of the trial, but I’ll briefly touch on two for now.

First, if Trayvon Martin had been Jose Martín, I don’t think the murder and the trial would’ve received as much attention as it did. I need only think of Raul Briseño, the restaurant clerk who was shot dead in the northwest suburbs after chasing two robbers. Few people care what happened to him. Or David Silva, mauled by a K-9  and beaten to death by police officers in California. How many people know his name?

And why does a shooting death have to involve two people of different races to stir the nation’s conscience? Black and Latino men kill black and Latino boys and girls nearly every week, especially in our beloved Chicago. Why isn’t the country as mad about Jonylah Watkins’ death as they are about Trayvon’s? Why doesn’t America know the name of the man being charged for the six-month-old’s murder as well as they know George Zimmerman’s?

Finally, Zimmerman is Latino, which adds an important factor into the equation. True, Zimmerman is half white of German descent, but the Latino community embraces people of half Latino descent all the time. Plus Latinos are a multiracial, multi-ethnic bunch — I myself am black, European and indigenous. And true, while it’s widely believed that Zimmerman pursued Trayvon for racial reasons, it’s hard to say whether Zimmerman’s Latino-ness or whiteness were at the root of his racial prejudice.

But we could easily imagine the same incident occurring with a George Zimmerman who is a second-generation American of full Latino descent. My point is: there’s a lot of anti-black racism in the Latino community.

I’ve heard older Latinos talk of black people as though they were less than dogs. Many Latinos, especially from the old countries, simply don’t trust black skin, and they teach their kids to do likewise. Let a black family move in next to your grandparents’ or parents’ house, and you just might here the most hateful language spewed from pretty Latino mouths.

The death of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman should serve as a hard reminder to the rest of us. We still have a lot of work to do — we as Latinos, but more importantly, we as Americans. Racism remains, despite what the Supreme Court has to say about it. It lives and breathes even among those who are themselves the targets of its cruel mission. To be clear, no group is innocent of racism. There is anti-black racism in the Latino community just as there is anti-Latino racism in the black community. There’s even anti-white racism in both.

We may not be able to control how other groups treat one another, but Latinos can control the way in which we treat other people — blacks, whites, Muslims, gays, whoever.

For now, a black boy’s young life was cut short for no damn reason. Let the sea of pain in our hearts fuel us to change our world for the better, and let’s make this terrible moment be worth something.


[Photo:  Beverly & Pack via Flickr]

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