Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again
I am grieving Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death all over again. A question posed by theologian Anne Joh arises in my mind: “Is there a response to grief that doesn’t lead to violence?” From the school-to-prison pipeline to “stand your ground laws” to prison without parole, the judicial sentencing of adolescents in our society has criminalized Black and Brown bodies.
My cousin, a youth minister, posted that America has said what it thinks of him as an African American male “and it hurts.” Even our immigration policies victimize families and communities of color. Where is the justice in this? And what is a just and compassionate response to this crime against the humanity of young people?
When I think of Trayvon Martin’s last moments of life, I imagine a bewildered and scared 17-year-old acting out of the panic that even an adult would feel at being followed, stalked, and confronted by a stranger.
Trayvon Martin was a youth. George Zimmerman was an adult male.
Trayvon Martin was on foot. George Zimmerman was following Trayvon in a vehicle.
Trayvon Martin was unarmed. George Zimmerman had a gun.
If Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin posed a potential threat, why didn’t he remain in his vehicle and follow law enforcement’s instructions?
No wonder the response to the Zimmerman trial verdict has provoked anger, outrage, disappointment, sadness, frustration. Unfortunately, another reality is that the verdict has also been met with relief and joy.
Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a trigger-happy George Zimmerman. Trayvon was a victim of Florida’s bad laws. He was a victim of a society that criminalizes dark skin, criminalizes poverty, and criminalizes youth.
This criminalization of youth and young adult males of color is a mindset that has been linked to institutional racism and white supremacy–a mindset that frames youth of color as criminal and dangerous. How do we transcend this negative frame and see the humanity of our young people?
The systemic and institutional forces that resulted in Trayvon’s senseless and unnecessary death at 17 are legion. They include:
- the school-to-prison pipeline,
- state judicial systems that convict and sentence youth as adults without possibility of parole,
- gun laws and gun lobbies, and
- “stand your ground laws” that enable the George Zimmermans to act as police, prosecutor, judge, and jury on the streets.
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander issued a clarion call to end the mass incarceration system that incriminates, imprisons, and disempowers communities of color. In response to the Zimmerman verdict she wrote:
“If Trayvon Martin has been born white he would be alive today… If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty–far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste.”
What is the compassionate and just response that is stronger than anger, stronger than disappointment and frustration, stronger than hate and grief?
Michelle Alexander says the response is to build a movement. She writes:
“Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you–and the millions your memory represents–that builds a movement that makes America what it must become. Rest in Peace.”
Standing on the Side of Love asserts that love is a force stronger than violence, hate, oppression, and I would add grief. But as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged, love without justice is anemic.
Let us work for love and justice by building this movement. Click here to watch the “Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow” workshop from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly and learn how to get involved.
To echo Michelle Alexander: the compassionate, ethical response to grief is to work for justice. Will you join me?
Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness
Unitarian Universalist Association
The message above went out on Monday, July 15, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.