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Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again

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Jul 15, 2013

Trayvon MartinI 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?

In faith,

Taquiena Boston

Taquiena Boston
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.

18 Responses to “Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again”

  1. Fred Small says:

    Thank you, as ever, Taquiena for your wise and prophetic leadership. I’ll join you!

  2. Kim Stanuch says:

    Zimmerman actually was “…judge and jury” AND EXECUTIONER.

  3. Maria Cristina says:

    Thank you Taquiena. It is so important to feel that we are not grieving alone. To know that we are part of a community of faith that acknowledges the pain, frustration, anger, and disappointment AND encourages us to take heart and continue working together for justice. I am grateful for your grace, strength, compassion, and loving kindness.

  4. Dee Halzack says:

    Thank you for your post.

    I would submit that, beyond the factors you have focused on, Trayvon Martin was also the victim of the fear and distrust that continues to exist between races in this country. The distrust of a dark-skinned young male, very probably based on stereotypes, led to fear when that male confronted his stalker. (And that’s another issue, as a black friend of mine has repeatedly reminded me of the consequences one can suffer as a person of color if one does not know one’s expected role of submissiveness.) We’ll never know what really happened, because one of the participants in that encounter is dead. But we do know that had his stalker not made assumptions that were based on something other than reality, and had he stood down when told to, Trayvon Martin would likely be alive today.

    I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for the fear and distrust, ON BOTH SIDES of the divide, but nothing is going to change until we work at changing it.

    I am in the process of reading a book about John Kennedy, whose prescriptions for peace would also fit our current situation with regard to race relations. One of his prescriptions is that we examine ourselves and our own attitudes and how they contribute to the situation.

    I had an interesting experience years ago in Washington, DC. Walking back to my dorm alone late at night, I, a young white woman, saw walking toward me a group of tall young black males. I admit with shame now that my immediate reaction was one of panic and fear. I looked around for a refuge and saw a pay phone and pretended to make a call, figuring no one would hassle me if I were “connected” somehow.

    The group passed me by without a second look. And I felt foolish at how afraid I had been. At least it did make me think though.

    I remember that experience still because it was the beginning of my realizing how much I had been programmed by my culture and my society to make certain assumptions about people. I went on to learn a lot from my time living in Washington. Where, at the time, though the majority of the population was black, the government offices were almost totally white faces.

    I was there after Dr. King was murdered. About two months after Dr. King’s death, I was walking down the street. A black man was walking towards me. I moved out of his way. He moved to block my path, walked to within a foot of me and said, calmly and quietly, “I would like to kill you.”

    I did not say anything. I couldn’t blame him for feeling that way. All I could do was let him vent and hope that was all. I just felt a profound sadness that that’s the way things were.

    I feel that same sadness again as a result of the George Zimmerman verdict. But I am also more than ever committed to being a UU. I believe that truly recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of others is incompatible with the fear-based behaviors that lead to hate crimes and discrimination and the deaths of innocent people like Trayvon Martin. But we need to go a lot further.

    I have learned over the years that it is hard for one to see instances of injustice that have had no impact on oneself. That means we have to pay attention to the stories of those who are different from us, really listen to their expereicnes. We need to empathize and put ourselves in others places and learn from their experiences as well as our own. And above all, stand up for lack of respect to others wherever it turns up. When we do, it can help us overcome the rough times. When we don’t, THAT’s what drives us further apart.

  5. Erin Reid says:

    Thank you! I’m with you standing on the side of love!

  6. Jane Modell says:

    Aren’t you mixing together two ideas? Trayvon was not doing anything wrong! The “school to prison pipeline” soundbite that gets trotted out is a whole different topic. That narrative ignores the fact that the kids who end up in prison DID do something wrong–they broke the law. Let’s not ignore that one of the problems we face is that many boys have poor self-regulation and poor executive function that leads them to engage in risky behavior. Many of these boys are poor, come from adverse childhood experiences, have ADHD due to environmental toxins–all common among African American boys because of the correlation to poverty. As long as we fudge the reality that they are making poor (albeit very often unconscious) choices, we can look away from the very real problems these boys face with functioning well. And there are plenty of white, Native American, Hispanic, mixed race, etc., boys who end up in trouble with the law due to these issues. It is not a matter of “those bad white people want black boys in prison.” That narrative has got to go.

  7. Marie Soto says:

    I am so heart broken. I am riddled with fear of harm befalling my loved ones from Zimmerman’esque people still out there. We need resolution, we need protection. We need to expose the hate.

  8. Jennifer Higley-Chapman says:

    Dear Jane, I think that you have good intentions, and a concern for justice. I lovingly and respectfully request that you take some time to read more about the bigger historical picture so that you might know why Ms. Boston’s points are so very relevant. Two fantastic and well-researched resources are Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow (as mentioned in the article) and Douglas Blackmon’s book Slavery By Another Name (also available in documentary film format). If you are surprised by what you learn, and want more, you can also try Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
    Understanding the full historical context will most certainly help anyone to understand that this problem started long ago, and did not end with slavery as many have been taught. It is so very deeply institutionalized that we don’t always see how very harmful it is to each of us.

  9. rev Bob Throne says:

    Thank you for that Taquiena. I’ve been retired sometime but find myself helping a new start north of Reading PA. (Schylkill UU’s)

    Speaking as a certified WASP with a THOROUGHLY multi-cultural / multi-racial family, and one who hired the first women, African American & GLBT for Pacific Life more than 40 years ago, and also who has served one of our rare integrated congregations – Restoration (forgive the bona fides) .. I have huge admiration for the UUA’s support of Women (tho’ there’s more work yet) and like-wise for our support of GLBT rights & dignity (have performed a number of ‘weddings’, tho’ it’s not “legal” here in PA yet) .. BUT, I remain grieved with our half-hearted, lip service treatment of people of color and most especially African American men. I stand with Mel Hoover and his remarks when receiving the Distinguished UU Award – we haven’t put our money where our mouth is .. and I applaud the effort revs Rosemary Bray McNatt and Meg Riley are making to hold the Women & GLBT activist feet to the fire and put as much effort and reputation into – finally – supporting an honest look at the residue of racism among our congregations & colleagues by making our efforts as well funded, wide spread and hands-on welcoming of people of color. It’s still BAWA all over again .. & I know about if first hand. Shameful and corrosive hypocrisy that will be the end of us if Fred Muir is right (he is). The culture is leaving us behind. We don’t even have a congregation where our grandchildren can go w/o being essentially ground breakers .. and one generation was enough – can’t blame their parents for not wanting to put them through it.

    Thanks for hearing me out. Keep the faith.
    Bob Throne

  10. Vera J. Katz says:

    To replace the bombardment of stereotyped opinions of each other which we are constantly subject to through the media, we must inter act; get to know & share an activity with people who are ethnically/religiously different from you. Visit a place of worship that is new. Meet family members. Then we will discover each others sameness! We must work to develop a caring for each other! This is the way to relocate the path to humanity.

  11. Walter Overby says:


    Thank you for speaking out. I agree with most of what you say.

    Was the evidence sufficient to convict Zimmerman? If not, surely we can’t blame those who feel relief and joy that a man was not convicted without sufficient evidence?

    Thanks again,


  12. [...] Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again by Taquiena Boston on Standing On the Side of Love. [...]

  13. Taquiena – thank you so much for this. It is right on point. As a bi-racial man (Black and Jewish) with a Black teenage son, I applaud your efforts to encourage our denomination to do more the protect young men like my son.

    Walter Overby – The simple facts are that an armed man admits that he followed, in his car, a teenager who was committing no crime. That he then got out of his car against police instructions and followed that teen further on foot. He and the teen came into conflict and that the teen ended up dead at the point of the follower’s gun. This is all the killer’s testimony and is beyond speculation. If there is not enough there to lead to a conviction of some crime, then we grieve because the law is wrong. Something is wrong.

    On a different, but related, note, there are times and places to argue the merits of this case. THIS IS NOT THAT PLACE. This is a place for grieving and organizing to ensure that fewer of our young Black men will meet early death due to an America which actively creates structures that hunt and kill them. This is also about making sure that our denomination is welcoming to those young men and their families.

    If you want to debate the merits of the case, if you want to look for nuance and reasons why an acquittal might have been appropriate, I ask, as respectfully as I can, that you please do that somewhere else, and let those of us who wish to grieve together do so without having to convince you of the legitimacy of that grief.

  14. [...] – Taquiena Boston, Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness Unitarian Universalist Association (read the complete post) [...]

  15. Thank you, also, for your thoughtful reflection on this tragedy. At Democracy Now on July 17 I think, Zimmerman was shown in an interview saying it was “God´s will”. In my reflection, I imagine he was counseled by people supported by the funds of the conservative rich, who have influenced many trends in the US. My focus in these issues is to enliven the awareness of grassroots culture, and economic activism, such as at http://www.cooppower.coop . There is a reason for all this injustice, and there is a solution. Let´s take this grief and make a better world.

  16. [...] Boston, Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association - Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again [Excerpt]“Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a trigger-happy George Zimmerman. [...]

  17. Eric says:

    I understand the outrage over the opinion in this trial. But Zimmerman did not use the “stand your ground” law as a defense. He asserted self defense, which is pretty much exactly the same in every state in the union. I’m tired of people bashing Florida law and crying about “stand your ground” when that wasn’t even an issue in the trial. The not guilty verdict probably would have been the same in every state.

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