My heart aches for Trayvon Martin and his family as it does for George Zimmerman and his family. When this story hit the media a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know how to respond. I was saddened and disgusted, but unfortunately, not shocked. This story was familiar to me. It isn’t the first time that black males or young males = suspicious. We have seen this equation many times and it has lead to racial profiling, police brutality, and at its worst, murder. I know that this case is overtly “racial” and that young black males have been labeled “suspicious” and untrustworthy since slavery, but it isn’t just about race so let’s move beyond it.
At the core, this is about the way humans treat other humans. We are able to hurt and kill each other without remorse and in Zimmerman’s case, with a delirious conviction that it is imperative to do so for our own survival. We can cast Zimmerman out as a crazy man or a racist or over zealous, but this is an oversimplification of the issue. Zimmerman is one of many do-gooders who got it wrong and he reflects every single one of us. No person is all bad or good. Depending on the situation either side can slip out of us. Zimmerman made a horrific mistake, but probably had good intentions like most of us do.
He wanted to protect his “area” from “them”. Some nefarious other. We do it all of the time. Our country is engaged in war against the “other”. We have killed hundreds of “them” and they “us”. Different racial, religious and cultural groups that are too many to name have “righteously” hunted and killed each other to “protect” themselves, their country, their sacred way of life, or their interests. Depending on the media spin, we determine if “they” were justified or not. Murder is not justifiable. Trayvon Martin should still be talking on the phone incessantly with his girlfriend, eating Skittles and planning his future. However, the Zimmerman in all of us killed Trayvon’s chances. Zimmerman is a symptom of a bigger malaise; it’s the malaise of hate and fear of the “other”.
The gangs in my neighborhood are warring right now and I have students who are afraid to leave the house because it’s warm outside and that’s when bullets spray. They fear the “other” and the local gangs fear, loathe and actively kill each other every chance they get. Even within the same “culture” we see each others as different and separate from ourselves. Some adults see those hoodied, baggy pants teens like Trayvon as the “other”, as the problem in the community and whether they are or not, we have to change our strategy in dealing with “us”. We have to stop seeing the problem as outside of our selves. There is no “other”. That is a sick figment of our imagination. There is only us. We are a community, both local and global and we must interact with one another as such. We need to lie down the guns because as we use them to kill others, we weaken and destroy ourselves. We are one and as a global community, we are hurting. Hurt people, hurt people. We saw it last week when Sergeant Robert Bales, obviously in emotional upheaval, snapped and killed other human beings. I’ve read posts where people defend Bales and blame the US government for sending him on a fourth tour of duty, but it’s all of our faults. We allow these wars to persist. It’s bigger than Bales. We tolerate the violence and see it as a solution. We allow our sons and daughters to kill each other on the streets in the name of their gangs. These aren’t nameless gang bangers. These are our children, our students and our youth.
We allow our friends to gay bash, run trains on young women, abuse each other, self-harm, mob attack random and selected people, gossip about co-workers, and commit all kinds of heinous crimes against these “others” who we don’t see as being worthy of life, respect and the same protections that we want. As long as we see each other as the enemy, there will always be an “other” whom we feel justified in annihilating and dehumanizing.
When we shift our consciousness into the reality that we are all one and that we are all impacted by the actions of this global community, then we will begin supporting each other and taking responsibility for the fractured, dangerous state that our minds, our families, our communities, and our countries are in. I am a reflection of you. I see you. I love you. I hope you can see me too. Can we hold both Trayvon and George in our hearts? Can we see them both within us and not further polarize? Can we stop the hate, fear and projection of our worst selves before it’s too late? I think we can. Let’s start in this moment because that’s all we have. Rest in peace, Trayvon, and may justice be served.