Our Black Boys Are Not Trash: From Emmett Till To Trayvon Martin
March 21, 2012
Trayvon Martin‘s family thought their son was missing. Despite Trayvon having a cell phone on him that had his family’s phone numbers in it, the police made no effort to notify his parents that he had been brutally shot and murdered in the neighborhood complex where his father lived. Instead he was taken by the medical examiner, tagged and listed as “John Doe.”
I was in 9th grade, when I learned about Emmett Till (pictured below, alive and dead). I was taking American History with my first-ever Black history teacher. I remember feeling rage and sadness after learning about the 14 year-old boy from Chicago who had been brutally murdered in Mississippi and discarded in to a river for “flirting” with a 21 year-old White woman. Though his death had occurred more than 45 years prior, my 14 year-old self wondered what Emmett was like. I wondered if his flirting was as harmless and uniformed as my classmates in my Chicago high school. Now, I imagine Emmett Till’s flirting was as harmless as Trayvon’s walk home after buying a bag of Skittles.
Here we are more than 50 years later and the story reads almost exactly the same. Two little Black boys go to the store, two little Black boys never come home. They are brutally murdered and the only crime committed is that their bodies exist. Their flesh is used as target practice for men full of hatred and loathing and then disposed of like trash. Racism is too slight a word to describe brutally killing children in cold blood. Evil sounds more appropriate to me. Like so many others have commented, we know all too well the pain and fear involved in loving and raising Black men. I grew up watching my mother drill my brothers about their driving habits, what streets not to take, what blocks not to walk down, and how to speak to police officers. Mom would say, “If you ever get pulled over, you say, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir,’ don’t you ever resist them.”
Why does Trayvon’s death evoke the most-traumatic sentiments of brutality against Black men? It is because Trayvon was gunned down by a civilian. While we’ve been consistently enraged at the police brutality leveraged against our Black men over the years, to be reminded that any White male civilian can murder a little Black boy without repercussions terrifies us. We realize that our Black boys are still viewed as trash (or to use Zimmerman’s words, “Coons”). They are not.
Trayvon was not John Doe. He was not the photo shown to his father of his lifeless body on a table with blood dripping from his mouth. Emmett Till was not the mangled mess of flesh and destroyed bones recovered from a river that his mother received and displayed for the world to see. Today we express the same outrage and disgust as the many people who lined up to view Emmett Till’s body all those years ago. We want justice for our boys. There is no space in this country where Black men can’t be threatened. The vial disdain, disrespect, racially motivated campaigns and open disgust for President Barack Obama shows us that daily. For Black men, it is simply reality. Trayvon Martin’s brutal murder reminds us that a post-racial America is merely a euphoric notion.
With the whole world watching, what will happen to George Zimmerman? If brought to trial, how will our nation react if he is tried an acquitted by a jury of his peers? And if so, what will that mean for our Black boys and all of us who love them. When will our Black boys become more than America’s trash?