Sunday, July 21, 2013

From Father to Son: A conversation about Trayvon

 This is a letter I received from my father shortly after the Trayvon Martin verdict. I wonder if Trayvon's Dad had the same conversation. I wonder if I'm going to have to send the same letter to my sons.


Dear Kid,
I can’t help, but keep reflecting on Trayvon Martin. Maybe it’s the physical similarity to you, especially Taj. Taj loved hoodies. One of my favorite pictures is of Taj wearing one of my hoodies. He must have been 6 or 7, and he wore that hoodie that entire summer. He would walk out the house with this hoodie that came down to his knees. I couldn’t help but laugh. I even brought Taj a maroon colored hoodie with Harlem in big letters written across the chest when he was 17.  I also bought one you, but you lost them both. Was I wrong to buy my sons hoodies? Was I a bad parent? I wonder if Trayvon’s parents are thinking the same thing. Juror B-37 accused Trayvon of having something to do with his own death. If that’s true, it can’t be the hoodie. A hoodie is an article of clothing. Ok, maybe it was his father’s fault for letting him go to store for snacks. No going to the store can’t be what caused his death, Men go to the store all the time. Ok, it has to be Trayvon’s mother’s fault. Didn’t she let him go visit his father in the first place? Well that is just silly. We want to encourage boys to visit their fathers. That’s how they become men. It has to be Trayvon confronting a stranger, an adult, who Trayvon identified as a possible sexual predator.  We are all in agreement right. It has to be that because than it would have been self defense/stand your ground in the favor of Trayvon.   Oh my bad, I’m sorry.  I forgot. It was self defense/stand your ground for George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman had those rights, because Trayvon had committed the most heinous of crimes.  His crime is being Black in America. A crime in most states is punishable by death.
I try to push this boy’s death to the back of my mind like all the injustices we face, but as I get on the subway and see these black boys, and I want to stop them to tell them to be careful.  When a police officer, or a security guard stops them (and they will be stopped), or when people look at them with fear and loathing, I quietly plead "please act polite, please say yes sir and no sir, please whatever you do don’t give them the excuse to kill you".  Your mother and I both had that talk with you and your brother. It was after a particular heated exchange between Taj that the talk really hit hom.  You remember Taj came home late, and it lead to a huge disagreement between all of you. If you asked your mother it had very little to do with the actual hour. It had more to do with her not knowing where Taj was and the real possibility that is at the forefront of every black mother’s mind that the cops have her son. You guys would say that I was a hard ass. I was tough on you and not afraid to punch you in the chest if I think you needed it. I remember telling you in particular on why you needed to control your anger. My reason was you can be mad at me, you can yell, you can eve cuss, however when you walk out this house the World doesn’t know you like I know you. The World doesn’t love you like I love you. The World thinks your just another Nigger not the brilliant, wonderful person that you are.
 It’s hard being Black in America and that’s no joke. I wanted to make sure my sons understand that. Why it’s hard. No matter how educated, how much money you have, how successful you are, what the world sees is a black man and that is an object of fear. And don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I had a waitress tell me to my face here in NYC in a thick Eastern European accent that she thought I was “tough” until we started talking and she saw I had a “nice face”. Translation, you were a Nigger until you opened your mouth and your wallet.
The reality is there are two Americas; one for blacks and one for whites. There’s not a black  man in America who has not been harassed, or arrested, or threatened by a police officer for doing nothing wrong. I must reiterate. It’s the doing nothing wrong that’s the problem.  It’s this weird “Right Of Passage” that we as black men speak about among ourselves, or in some cases never bring it up because it’s so painful. I’m going to share something I have spoken about only very rarely, because if had it gone another way I wouldn’t be here today. I was 20, or 21 and a gas meter reader in Seattle. You weren’t born yet. I was reading meters in a neighborhood I had been to before. It wasn’t new to me. I went in a back yard. Was there for less than 15 seconds and moved on to the next house and so on. About 5 to 10 minutes after I left this back yard I was walking to a house and out of the bushes jumped a police offer with gun drawn and hand on the trigger. He told me to stop, put my hands up. As I did another officer came up behind me and tackled me forcing my face into the mud. He handcuffed me. While in the mud I said I was the meter reader. At that point the officer who tackled me turned me over. We used to use a version of a personal computer to log in the reads. It looked like an 80’s cell phone. The officer, who nearly shot me said “What is this some kind of bomb or weapon?” I was calm, polite and corporative, because my Grandfather had the talk with me about how to act when being confronted by the police. Once on my back my savior appeared, a Native American postman who said very calmly “Why you got the gas meter reader on the ground”. The cop who damn near shot me walked over to the Native American postman and began questioning him. I think it is because there was a witness, and my demeanor, but whatever it was the officers un-cuffed me and let me go. The explanation for my treatment is they got a call of a prowler, who had entered a house. This person matched my description.  No prowler was found, no house had been broken into. Nothing had happened.  I can see the face of the officer, I can see the gun. I still have nightmares of that day only difference is the officer fired. In my dream I’m looking down on my body with a hole in my chest laying there with the officers over me.  That is not the only story. I got a half dozen of them.
I hope I will not have to have the talk with my Grandson. I hope when he comes along the martyrdom of Trayvon Martin will have changed the hearts of minds of people in this country where the story I tell my Grandson is one where these types of things happened in the past. I will tell my Grandson that his life is just as valuable as his white classmates. He can walk where he wants. He can wear what he wants.  The color of his skin has the same meaning as the color of his eyes.  That is my prayer.


One Love. No Justice, No Peace.

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