The Color of Suspicion

It was August 1971 and it was the first time my father would let me ride the train to the beach with friends without my brother tagging along, probably because my father needed him to work that day… I don’t remember.  What I do remember is how much fun I was having since I got to hang out with friends… Willie, Rudolfo, Frankie, Peaches, Christine, Eileen and our big friend, “Baby Huey”.  We were going to Brighton Beach with “the guys” so we were in good hands, they wouldn’t let ANYONE hurt us.  In fact both Rudolfo and Willie knew judo from training but they would never “show-off” it was strictly for defense, but occasionally we would watch them practice.  I was so excited about going to the beach because the previous year was a drag since I had a broken arm casted the whole summer.   I had been riding my bike when the handle bars loosened and then I swerved into oncoming traffic and was hit by a car.  I kept it hush-hush, went home with a swollen, painful arm and didn’t want to tell dad because he might not let me ride again.  After an hour he saw the swelling and took me to the ER – then he “blessed out” the adults that didn’t let him know about the accident.  Well, after that incident my father trusted me… after all, he knew I could keep it together with minimal supervision.  I lost my mother when I was four and basically was the girl of the house with my dad and two brothers…  I had to be independent and I was fearless.

After the long day at the beach, we were all tired and hungry; we had spent most of our money on Pepsi and hot dogs and Christine had to be home by 6:00, so we decided to head back to the train… the B train from Brooklyn to Manhattan.   We were in our “group” walking from the beach to the train station… walking slowly and just talking and laughing.  The guys were walking in front of us and they were  joking around and talking about some girl from the neighborhood; they just happened to refer to her as a “hoe” in their convo.   There was a couple, a white couple, that had come out of the neighborhood bar and started walking towards the beach, and when they crossed our path, they heard the guys talking.  The exact time escapes me after all these years, but in a few minutes…  the woman’s husband runs up to our guys from behind and he’s like “what the fuck… did you call my wife a hoe?”  So Willie turns around and says “no man, we were just  talkin’ …. ”After a few more words… Willie asks the guy “we’re cool right?” and he’s like “yeah”.  But what happened during that convo was the guys watch fell off and no one saw this but Christine put the watch in her beach bag.  Willie didn’t see her do it, no one did.  We continued to walk towards the train and the couple was walking towards the beach… or so we thought.    Willie and Rudolfo walked ahead of us girls and Baby Huey was behind us… he was always so slow.   A few minutes later, the guy runs up behind Rudolfo and Willie again… this time he yells… “Where’s my watch?!”… Willie says something like “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about … you’re drunk, get outta here with that shit!”   The guy “looks” like he’s gonna walk away but then turns, gun in hand… he gets into a Judo wrestle with Willie for all of two seconds and then …bang!   Willie was shot in close proximity with a 22caliber – in his head.  His body begins to vibrate as he falls to the ground… blood is shooting all over us… Peaches tries to cushion his fall…  Rudolfo and Baby Huey try to catch the shooter, who was instantly out of site.  It all happened so fast, yet it felt like slow-motion.   The bullet was lodged in a position where it couldn’t be removed.   A few days later Willie died, just two weeks before he would have celebrated his 16th birthday.  No charges were brought against the [white] shooter.  He stated that it was self-defense; that Willie had provoked him by calling his wife names and  wrestling with him, taking his watch and he said he was scared because we were “a gang”.   Willie’s poor mother didn’t have enough money to even have a decent service.  We took up collections at the boys club/girls club… she couldn’t get a good attorney and she didn’t care- she lost her baby.   I went home on the train after the shooting, tried to hide the incident like I did with the broken arm but then I broke down and told my father.  He said, “That’s how it is in this country… we’re fucked”.  My father was glad that my brother didn’t go with me.

I never forgot what happened to Willie and when you live in New York, you can’t forget… you won’t forget.  Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Yusuf Hawkins were young men murdered in New York… that reminded me.  Cases of young men being killed, gone way too soon, were always in the news and when I wasn’t reading or watching the news, someone I knew was telling me about a similar crime to their loved one.

When does this stop, when will haters stop hiding behind the “self-defense” skirt?   Statistically, the men who have been gunned down are young men… boys… my son’s age, my nephew’s age.  What?  You think this is a rare incident?  Read the newspaper, check the stats; there are over 6 million violent crimes committed in the U.S. each year.

Recently, the murder of Trayvon Martin is finally getting some media attention and a federal investigation.

I went to sign the petition at Change.org and read the story … On February 26, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed as he walked to a family member’s home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. He was only 17 years-old.

Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, admitted to police that he shot Trayvon in the chest.  Zimmerman, the community’s self-appointed “neighborhood watch leader,” called the police to report a suspicious person when he saw Travyon, a young black man, walking from the store.  But Zimmerman still hasn’t been charged for murdering Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon was a hero. At the age 9, Trayvon pulled his father from a burning kitchen, saving his life. He loved sports and horseback riding. At only 17 he had a bright future ahead of him with dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic. Now that’s all gone.

It’s been weeks and the Sanford Police have refused to arrest George Zimmerman. In their public statements, they even go so far as to stand up for the killer – saying he’s “a college grad” who took a class in criminal justice.

The case is currently under investigation by federal and local authorities after a flurry of media attention called for Zimmerman’s arrest, who local police said was acting in self-defense — despite Martin being unarmed and the existence of telephone recordings of the late teen crying and pleading for help.

The family is urging us to share this information and direct people to sign their petition at Change.org.

I wonder how does a man [like Zimmerman ] born in the 80’s, see a black teen walking in the rain, minding his business, as such a threat that he had kill him cold blood? Martin was a normal looking teen, nothing scary or offensive in any way; I become concerned for our children of color especially those with disabilities… will anyone ask if they need help or will they pull the trigger because the stare from their eyes is suspicious?

Parents/Grandparents, watch your children as much as you can and teach them well.  Don’t shelter them from this ignorance, you’re not helping them and if you have children of color with Autism, Asperger’s, Cerebral Palsy or other developmental disability… please watch them TWICE as much.  The photo to the right is a girl with Down’s syndrome… a parent would recognize this, others might not.  If your children with or without disabilities embrace the hip-hop culture and wear hoodies (whether they’re American Apparel, Rocawear  or ?),  and if they wear fitted hats, wear their pants down low and have their iPod earbuds in or headphones – they just ‘might’ look suspicious.  I recently read a post by Michael Skolnik of the Global GrindWhite People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin”; Skolnik is a white man who loves the hip-hop culture and he wears hoodies but is never felt to look “suspicious”; his post sends a message to his white friends.    The message is clear that men of color will always appear suspicious to those who live in fear.  Fear and ignorance are dangerous, especially when combined – they are toxic.   We cannot change the way people think, only how we react to them.  I say that we have to act as though anything could happen at any given time, we can’t relax, we can’t let our guard down.

Trayvon didn’t have a gun or any weapon in his hand… he had Skittles… candy.  It doesn’t get more innocent.

Are you outraged?  Good…  I am and we need to unite to prevent this from happening to your son, my son.  We don’t need revenge we need for the authorities to be held accountable.   And as parents, we can’t look at this as being someone elses son… we have to take the bull by the horns and fight for “our children”.

I agree with BlogXilla at the Global Grind  he says “It’s time for a change! We must stop feeding these stereotypes by killing each other, and not by accusing our brothers and sisters of “acting white.”    At the same time, white America needs to understand that our clothes and music do not define us. We are fathers, brothers and sons who want to experience the American dream as well. Right now it’s just a nightmare.”

 

Please sign the petition “Justice for Trayvon Martin“.  I pray for this family …God bless us all.

 

Resources:

ABC News

The Global Grind

The Grio

The Huffington Post 

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