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Death of Trayvon Martin is 'My Greatest Fear for My Son'

“I am already teaching him how to act around police officers—and he’s only 8,” a college friend of mine told me.

I’m a smart, progressive, socially aware white woman, and I am ashamed of myself.

Last week I read a Facebook post that my college friend, Chuck, wrote, and I was ashamed that it never occurred to me what he has felt, and will feel, his entire life.

“I support Trayvon Martin. This is my wife's greatest fear for my son, Chas, when he becomes a teenager: being harassed by the police or rogue individuals. I am already teaching Chas how to act around police officers. I have personally been thrown in jail and handcuffed to a prison wall when I was driving a new car in a nice neighborhood. This happened to me when I was in college—an Ivy League school at that. I mean, what decade are we in anyway? This has got to stop! I am talking to all fathers out there. This tragedy can happen to me, my son, your son, anyone's son.”

In a general, intellectual sense I have always known about prejudice and racism, and I’ve understood that the kind of life approach Chuck wrote about is something many people of color have had to embrace out of necessity. Sure, we’ve all got our own personal stories—growing up as a Jewish girl, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I know first-hand about prejudice and the real outcome of the threat of hatred.

But rarely have I made that direct of a connection between such a tragic national story with race at the heart of it, as it did in the Trayvon Martin shooting, as I did in reading the words of my friend. Chuck took the self-portrait you see with this column as a means of standing in solidarity with the Martin family and in respectful, protesting memory of Trayvon’s death.

He also posted this image next to a shot of his own young son, Chas. However, drawing a line to protect some of their privacy, I decided to not include that image with this story in consultation with Chuck. But in seeing Chas’ smiling, sweet, little-boy face, it’s hard not to realize that Trayvon needs to be remembered as a child of mine, of yours and of the world.

What hit home the most is the idea that Chuck would need to teach his son—his beautiful, innocent, 8 year old son—how to speak to police officers so that it would give Chas the best chance of surviving that kind of encounter. An encounter with an officer of the law who Chas should look to for protection, not aggression based in racism. It’s a hard reality that shouldn’t have to be.

This issue of race is not particular to Florida, to Chuck, or to the African American community. The topic is one for discussion that must be embraced head-on because it is one of the largest issues—if not the single largest issue—affecting everything in this country, as it has for at least the last 150 years. Slavery, civil liberties, inequality, employment, education, crime, poverty, declining cities, health care, politics, you name it…race plays a factor in each.

Reading Chuck’s words, and reading all the accounts and fall-out news stories following the shooting of Trayvon’s by George Zimmerman one month ago, I reflected how we are certainly not immune to the effect of race and discrimination here at home.

There have been numerous recent cases alleging racism at play, such as in ; or in Darien, where statistics point to the probability that than what is proportional to the town population; or deep-seated racial tensions in East Haven that hit national news with a ; or even overall in Connecticut, where it was recently found that if stopped by a police officer in the state.

Of course it’s almost impossible not to find the continued presence of race in situations like this all over as well—in Mississippi, three white men pleaded guilty last week to federal hate crimes in the 2011 beating death of an African-American man; in New York City, an unarmed Black teen was shot by a police officer in February. The list could go on. It seems no one is immune to the insidiousness of racial hate and difference.

The Trayvon Martin killing seems to have shined a searing light, though, on the issue of race. Was it his youth? Was it the idea that at first glance this seemed like unprovoked, vigilante justice permitted by ill-conceived laws? Is it that there has been no arrest made for such a horrific incident, even one full month after it occurred?

Of course when President Obama weighed in last week, it gave the story appropriate attention. As the country’s first black president, his remarks that a son of his would have looked like Trayvon put an important context to the shooting. A president remarking on an important social issue helped underscore the kind of role this issue continues to play in our society.

I’ve seen many a Facebook post in the last couple of days pointing out the tragic irony of how there has been no arrest in Trayvon’s shooting, and yet the anti-fur protester who flour-bombed Kim Kardashian was arrested immediately after attacking her. There’s been continued outcry in popular media and the sports world drawing more heat and attention on Trayvon’s case` with the Miami Heat athletes among others posing in hoodies to memorialize the Florida teen and keep the national conversation going.

And just this past Monday, a march was planned for Sanford, FL in protest that no arrest had yet been made. A similar anti-violence rally was planned for this week in Bridgeport.

I talked with Chuck about what we were witnessing and what reaction he’d gotten to his post. He reflected on what it’s been like for him growing up, feeling like he’s bridged many worlds—white, black, affluent, educated (both Ivy League and master’s level) and million-dollar business owner.  And yet the Trayvon shooting reinforced that with a hoodie on, there are people that would only ever see “a brother in a hoodie from the streets.”

To Chuck, the biggest tragedy would be if this crime was not prosecuted. Even if Zimmerman, as is being claimed, feels remorse, there has been a crime. “This is but a single incident in the black experience,” he told me. “The mainstream, the people within the bell curve have to always make the ethical choice. When they don’t—when you let him go with the gun that killed that little boy, then you are communicating to me, to my son, that we are not valued. People are supposed to make the right decision. But they are not.”

He hopes, as do I, that with the mounting, continued outrage and outspoken attention Trayvon’s case is receiving that something will happen—in the Sanford, FL case and nationally. After all, as a recent CNN poll found, three out of four people feel that Zimmerman should be arrested for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps there's hope yet.

Despite that glimmer of hope, he said he still needs to be realistic. “I need to get my son past age 20 or 25. As a black male, if you can survive between now and 25, you’re safe. After 25, he’ll be outside the danger zone.”

I can’t imagine life in the danger zone. But we as a people need to learn how, at the least, to imagine it, especially if it isn’t our everyday experience, so that we can correct, fight against and change the prejudice — so that the Trayvons and the Chas-es of the world will no longer have to walk in fear.

Patrick Henry March 27, 2012 at 04:08 PM
That is awful Roy, and you SHOULD have called the police. I'm truly ashamed of our town that you had to endure that.
NewCanaanVoter March 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
First of all it was Zimmerman who was arrested for assault. Maybe you just assumed it was Martin because he's black?
Anne Nonimus March 27, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Seb. when a hoddie wearing 6' 3" black male is milling about (just wandering around in slow cirlces) in front of YOUR house. in the rain. with-out an umbrella. what would you think? honestly? who would you call? honestly?
Anne Nonimus March 27, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Agreed! The lesson here is to leave law enforcement to trained professionsals. Period. Not potentially trigger happy "Neighborhood watch" guys, not The New Black Panther Party and not popular opinion polls about who should be arrested or not. All evidence supports the claim of self defense (including an eye witness who saw Trayvon on top of Zimmerman, pounding him). It is very sad that Trayvon is dead, It is unnecessary.
Hermann Zwergel March 27, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Perhaps he had a hoodie on BECAUSE it was raining, he was RETURNING from the store with the pop and candy he bought (as most KIDS do). Get a life...
Jon S. March 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
1) Black Panther Party disbanded 30 years ago. 2) "New Black Panther Party" has offered $10,000 (not $1 million) for the "capture" of Mr. Zimmerman. 3) Leaders of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s (and most others) reject the so-called "New Black Panther Party" as a "black racist hate group." 4) Obviously, vigilantism is part of the problem in this current shooting in Florida, not part of the solution. 5) Even as a Republican, I have no reason to believe any president would "love" to "set race relations way back."
Jon S. March 27, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Black or white, yes, I would call the police. And if the police told me not to intervene, I'd follow that advice.
J Bauer March 27, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Hey Patrick, do not be so quick to chastise the entire town for the actions of one idiot. I think 99% of the town would condemn such an awful action, I know I certainly would.
Patrick Henry March 27, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Point taken J Bauer. I guess what I meant to say was I am ashamed that something like that happened in our town...it's literally right out of Gentleman's Agreement, and it sucks.
Glen K Dunbar March 27, 2012 at 05:30 PM
What I want to know is why a common watcman had a gun in the first place? Next, no person knows really what happened there. Only the 2 involved. Was there an actual witness or tape of the occurrence?
Ade March 27, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Glen - Zimmerman was not a "common watchman" he was a regular citizen exercising his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Unfortunately, he was also a psychotic vigilante and took advantage of the "stand your ground" law in Florida to shoot a kid he felt didn't belong. There were witnesses and a recording on a 911 call of the incident. Try CNN. Educate yourself. Catching on to the theme yet?
Ade March 27, 2012 at 06:40 PM
watchman - Is your name Glen? Wasn't talking to you. My comment was meant for Glen to go to other sources of news to learn more about this incident. I guess you must be a FOX news guy. Sorry to put your panties in a wedge.
nyyankees March 27, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Jon S, the new Black Panthers are the bad guys? The original group was just a bunch of leftists and revolutionaries-a perfectly nice bunch of fellows. Show me where Obama is a unifying leader in this country. He always brings up race- remember the Cambridge MA incident. It is part of his background as a community organizer and the influence of Saul Alinsky.
NewCanaanVoter March 27, 2012 at 07:22 PM
"Are you saying that the eyewitness reports of Zimmerman being attacked, the recording of a struggle, Zimmerman's broken nose, his bloody face and neck are all fabrications of the Police State?" You realize that in the same paragraph you say this you cite Martin for being suspended for having an empty bag of marijuana, which is information that was wrongfully (and possibly illegally) leaked by the police department. Further, one of the eyewitneses has now gone on record saying that the police coached him to say that Martin attacked Zimmerman. Thirdly, one version of the 911 call released by police has Zimmerman calling Martin a racial slur, and another version does not, showing that police appear to have altered the evidence to hide Zimmerman's guilt. Fourth, Zimmerman has been arrested previously for assaulting a cop and has also been accused of stalking and assaulting his ex wife, which you also conveniently leave out of your analysis. Fifth, Zimmerman was in his car when he called 911, and we told by dispatch to remain in his car, but for some reason decided to leave his vehicle to hunt down Martin. Lastly, no photographs have been released of the supposed injuries, and if it's true that the police were faking the information to make Martin look guilty then it's unclear if there ever really were any injuries to begin with.
NewCanaanVoter March 27, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I should add here is the article about police telling the witnesses what to say: http://abcnews.go.com/US/neighborhood-watch-shooting-trayvon-martin-probe-reveals-questionable/story?id=15907136#.T3ISDOxSTfY
stella bella March 27, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Better a gun in the hand, than a cop on the phone.
NewCanaanVoter March 27, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Roy, Let me get this straight, you think that Al Sharpton is my hero because I linked to an ABC article? You're insane. And there is no evidence that he was selling drugs, this is just something you've made up and have now convinced yourself is true.
Jon S. March 27, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Sorry, my point was that as radical as the original Black Panthers were, even they don't condone this "New Black Panther Party" and its antics -- that is, when even radicals find NBPP radical, NBPP is way out there on the fringe. Look, you exaggerated the Zimmerman "bounty" by 100 times (you were off by $990,000), and you're exaggerating again, rhetorically, when you say the president "always brings up race." Always? More likely, it seems that when ANY racial issue comes up, many simply use it as an opportunity to reveal their antipathy toward the president. That said, the president wasn't in Professor Gates' Cambridge home in 2009, and shouldn't have responded to questions about it, just like neither you nor I were down there in Florida and can only offer limited and highly filtered opinions about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
NewCanaanVoter March 27, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Roy, I'll stop calling you out for making stuff up as soon as you stop making stuff up.
joe March 27, 2012 at 11:34 PM
nobama is not uniting americans, rather he is stirring up the pot for political gain. He's energizing his base. Nobama is ripping bandaid's off old deep wounds that will set back race relations by 30 years. if you voted for Nobama to prove your weren't a racist in 08, vote against him now to prove your not stupid!
Stan March 28, 2012 at 12:01 AM
For a good read, I suggest Thomas Sowell's column: http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2012/03/27/geraldos_point/print In situations like this, just remember the mainstream media and their followers are more interested in a story than the facts. Getting hysterical will not get us anywhere.
Hermann Zwergel March 28, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Stupid = people who don't know difference between YOUR and You'RE ! Who's your hero, Rush Limpbo?
Hermann Zwergel March 28, 2012 at 12:28 AM
How many previous attacks did Zimmerman have? More than 1 is the answer.
Glen K Dunbar March 28, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Abe. yea, You are correct. I agree w/you for once pal. I guess CNN would be a place to get the real facts. If I ever catch a break from my worthless life I will try to find out more. Stories like this bother me. as for the Watchman..I could say something but about HIM but it might get mis understood. Let me put it this way... He did not look to be ORIGINALLY from around here. Understand??? Why was HE put in charge
Alex March 28, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Sebastian: In our great country, if you get an arrest expunged, it means the charges held against you are erased from law. That means they never existed. I don't know why it was expunged (the issue at the bar), but you cannot considered that part of his arrest record because it is not. Also the domestic violence claim: Both the woman and Zimmerman had filed restraining orders against each other. It was he said she said without any physical evidence. "He said She said" doesn't hold up too well in our legal system and besides that, the restraining orders were voluntarily requested by both, not ordered by a judge because of an assault. With all that said, I am really fed up with how blown out of proportion this story has gotten. It is very unfortunate that a teenage was killed, but we simply do not know what happened that night but that's why there are 3+ investigations attempting to find out. Did race play a part in this? I don't think so, but that is my opinion. Either way you swing, jumping to conclusions is the wrong approach. Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty? Even if all the cries to have this man arrested, the BEST they could attempt to arrest him on would be manslaughter. Then he posts bail, and then what? We are where we started. He won't be denied bail because he's clearly not a flight risk.
Alex March 28, 2012 at 06:29 PM
He had a concealed weapons permit. It's perfectly legal to walk down the road with a gun on you in Florida. There appears to be some witnesses, mostly audible, but with all the rumors and opinions its difficult to determine fact from opinion.
Alex March 28, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I read CNN a lot, and I'm pretty disgusted how they handled this story. Usually they are pretty fair. They made it all about race to drive up viewership along with posting only younger photos of Martin which is pretty shameful. I haven't even seen what Foxnews has said about the story (they are usually too biased), but CNN's version will certainly give you one side of the story...
NewCanaanVoter March 28, 2012 at 08:24 PM
@Alex "Did race play a part in this? I don't think so, but that is my opinion." So you are saying that if the cops had showed up and it was the black kid that had shot and killed the white neighborhood watch guy, he wouldn't have been arrested? The accusations of racism have nothing to do with whether or not there is enough evidence to charge Zimmerman or have him convicted, which there may well not be.
Joshua A. Hill March 29, 2012 at 06:18 PM
excellent. thank you for this act of love that will make some difference.
Mary Anne April 07, 2012 at 12:39 PM
My parents also taught us how to act around police officers. And that was, cooperate, do as they say and show respect. These kids are intentionally provocative in how they dress and act. Why can't Sharpton and co. and parents teach these kids, who they say are targeted, to follow these simple rules. Cooperate with the cops. If you are innocent it will come out. Blacks should direct their outrage at the blacks in their community who commit the crimes. This incident of a nonblack killing a black is not common...IF they cared about black lives so much focus on the black on black crime. Yes this is 2012 and blacks are still victims in their own minds thanks to us. And as a woman who worked in an all male field I have felt discrimination. It got me angry. But it only made me want to work harder. The blacks should work as a group to remove the negative stereotypes they cry exist. You might be surprised with the results.

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