“This is just a beginning. We will continue the walk by faith, we will continue to hold hands on this journey — white, black, Hispanic, Latino. We will continue to walk. We will march and march and march until the right thing is done.”
Those moving words from Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon, sum up what has made this case so moving and so powerful.
It took a national effort, a national movement, to get this case the attention it deserved. When local authorities could not see beyond George Zimmerman’s basic claim to use deadly force under the state’s Stand Your Ground law, the governor appointed a Special Prosecutor in the case. As Prosecutor Angela Corey took the podium to announce the charges brought against Zimmerman, it became clear the days of glossing over this crime are over. The Civil Rights struggle has shown us decade after decade, marches and rallies and speeches do make a different.
The movement inspired many who were new to protests. Young people of all backgrounds started pulling their hoodies over the heads to show how ludicrous it is to assert that a hoodie by its very nature is the uniform of a criminal.
Adults who didn’t usually “get involved” reacted on a personal level, with that heavy heart of a parent, or just someone who cares about other people’s children. Vinnie Politan, a commentator on CNN’s sister station HLN, noted he was shocked at social media attacks on him as part of the “liberal media” when he said Trayvon did nothing wrong. “I’m a law and order guy,” he shot back. “I reacted to this as a story about someone’s kid like it was my own.”
In early April, I spent some time with my 30-year-old son, who looks younger. It was a surprisingly cold day after a warm spell. He nonchalantly pulled his hood up as we walked around town, and kept it on in and out of stores; not making a statement, just keeping himself warm. But I saw the statement.
Of course, underneath that hoodie was my son’s white face, so it would never be the same. It took the President to make that crystal clear. No one could articulate the racism that cannot be separated from this case better than President Obama, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
The trial will illuminate issues far more than Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence. Racial profiling is on trial. The U.S. Senate isn’t waiting, as the Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the issue on April 17. Race is, and should be on the table as we examine this case.
And the “Stand Your Ground” laws, now in some 30 states in various forms, are on trial. As the Washington Post recently reported, those laws coincide with a jump in justifiable homicide cases. New York City Michael Bloomberg charges that these laws take away rights that are basic to the American way of life, noting that even soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan must meet a higher standard for taking deadly action against someone. “There’s no civilized society that I know, no democracy, that has these kinds of laws. Only in America where we have more guns than people.”
As the national movement focused attention on Trayvon Martin’s death, two individuals were thrust into the spotlight to speak for Trayvon – his parents. Their voices are the other part of what has make this such a compelling event. Their voices are heard above the speeches and the commentaries, because they speak with authenticity and raw emotion. They been a source of light throughout the entire process, standing up for the rights of Trayvon and themselves, wanting no part of violence or revenge. They wanted George Zimmerman brought to trial, and they now want a fair trial.
“I just want to speak from my heart,” said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, after Zimmerman’s arrest. “A heart has no color. It’s not white. It’s not black. It’s red. I just want to say ‘thank you’ from my heart to your heart.”
I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Trayvon. With these remarkable parents, he must have been quite a young man. We’re now on a journey together with his family to make sure this trial is fair. And collectively we can serve Trayvon’s legacy best by going beyond the trail to bring to light important issues that demand public scrutiny.