Do Black Lives Matter?
As the firefighters arrive on the scene, they see the two black houses in flames, not yet fully engulfed. Thankfully, there’s still some time to make a difference. However, there are several other white and tan houses on the street, and since “all houses matter,” the firefighters begin to focus their attention on the entire street, instead of making a difference where it is needed.
Two adults hide behind their keyboards like children, strapped with verbal weaponry, true internet gangstas. The debate? Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter? Funny and hard-hitting memes are exchanged, name-calling occurs, hatred flies in both directions, and hidden somewhere in the dialogue like a shiny jewel in a pile of shit is a small portion of substance. The substance? One individual thinks that all lives are important, doesn’t think that black lives should be getting all the press, grew up hearing stories of police as heroes, and has seen mostly friendly officers in his middle class neighborhood. The other person also believes that all lives are important, but feels strongly that society views black as ‘lesser’ and wants everyone to know that black lives also matter, grew up hearing stories of police brutality, and believes that those stories from his lower class neighborhood have been legitimized by modern videos.
The white man walks away from his laptop and glances at an old Save The Whales poster, and it never occurs to him that all sea creatures matter.
Before the night is over and the two men unfriend each other on social media and go back into their respective bubbles, they get to the part that should actually start a constructive conversation, the part where they drop all political correctness and say what they actually think. The screen holds offensive but honest declarations such as:
“He was a thug, he deserved it,”
“He didn’t even have a weapon, this is murder,”
“If you do what the cop says, you’ll never have a problem,”
“Most officers are simply doing their jobs,”
“Cops are lower than dirt,”
“Thugs are lower than dirt,”
“Thug is just code language for black,”
and “Black on black crime is the real problem.”
Each man has laid it all out on the table: admitted prejudices, repeated stereotypes, and all. They’ve each spoken their “truths,” and can finally begin a productive talk. That talk, however, will not occur, because this is where it always ends. The white man walks away from his laptop and glances at an old Save The Whales poster, and it never occurs to him that all sea creatures matter.
The date is February 26, 2012. Sybrina is a hard-working and respected woman in her hometown of Dade County, in Miami, Florida, where she works a government job as the Program Coordinator for the Housing Authority. Like most of us, her life has had it’s ups and unfortunate downs, like her divorce in 1999. This morning, she’s thinking about her ex-spouse, as many of us are forced to do when a child is involved. She’s pondering, as she sprays some perfume to ready herself for work, how she doesn’t really regret her time with him, because her beautiful son Trayvon, now 17 years old, came from that relationship.
Trayvon is visiting Sybrina’s former husband, his father, in Sanford, Florida. She wonders, out loud to herself, what it will be like when Trayvon is 18 next year, and the divorce decree will no longer determine how often she can spend time with her boy. It’s hard to believe he will be 18 next year, and her mind begins to wander to some of those precious childhood memories. When he was nine, for instance, he saved his father’s life by dragging him, and his immobilized legs, out of a fire. She remembers how he would wash cars and cut lawns for money, and she figures that he has a good work ethic, which makes her feel better about him being considered an official adult soon. What has her worried, however, is that he’s recently had some behavioral issues in school. In fact, he’s currently serving a suspension for a graffiti incident, and having trace amounts of marijuana in his bag. Also, he had created this silly online persona of himself, acting like some of his favorite hip hop artists, trying to impress his friends. Anyhow, she figures that she has had a really good talk with him, and she expects for him to come back from her father’s house ready for a fresh start.
Sybrina’s thoughts are interrupted with the same news that all of America hears on February 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin, Sybrina’s little boy who loves airplanes and football, has been fatally shot by a man for looking black. My apologies, for looking “suspicious” and wearing a hoody. The man, whose name doesn’t deserve to be mentioned here, called the police because there had been some burglaries in the area, and he was given specific instructions to stay in his car. If he had followed those instructions, Sybrina wouldn’t be mourning the death of her 17 year old son who was killed in “self defense,” strapped with no weapon but the fists of a 158 pound teenager, and a bag of Skittles. He was, however, black…and he was wearing a hoody.
How do I, as a white man, respond to these scenes? I don’t have all the answers. I know that violence will not solve the problem of violence – and even if it could, the problem is far deeper.
Fast forward to the day that a jury of his (the man whose name doesn’t deserve a mention) peers decided that Sybrina’s young child was murdered by a man much larger than himself in self-defense, despite having no weapon. How could that possibly happen? Unrealistic scene, you say? It is, as you probably know, a true story. When an attorney wants to paint an individual out to be a thug, they have an immediate advantage when that individual has black skin. Trayvon has made it easy by getting into some recent trouble and writing some silly tweets. Once they establish that he’s a thug, the leap to this young boy being a danger to this fully grown man carrying a weapon becomes only a tiny jump.
On the day Sybrina receives the news that her son’s murderer will roam free, an entire movement has already been created around the death of her son, and she refuses to cower in the corner, but instead lets the country know that she, and her newfound organization, will continue to fight. Sybrina weeps regularly, but not in public. Sybrina remains strong, but not in private.
Cut Scene. Real talk.
How do I, as a white man, respond to these scenes? I don’t have all the answers. I know that violence will not solve the problem of violence – and even if it could, the problem is far deeper. Laws can be passed, but they won’t be enforced until there is a shift in public perception. How does that happen? I don’t know. Perhaps conversations that begin with an open-minded agreement to avoid name-calling and a commitment to keep the conversation going even after we’re all offended? Perhaps standing up for what we believe in, even if it’s completely awkward and uncomfortable, at the dinner table at a family function? Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. For now, I’ll write an article and see what happens, and I’ll write in scenes. Scenes aren’t mere opinions. They may include opinions, but scenes involve real people. If you’re a mother, you understand how Trayvon’s mother must have felt. Your kids probably got in trouble at some point too, no matter how well you raised them, and you’re probably glad they’re still alive. These aren’t political opinions or points to be scored in a debate, these are human beings. Black Lives Matter.