I am writing this with such a heavy sadness in my stomach. It is not “on brand” or funny or witty but these are my raw, honest, feelings. When the Zimmerman verdict came through to my phone, I was visibly shaken. I sobbed right over my food at dinner. I was celebrating my birthday with friends but didn’t feel like eating anymore. I was so angry. And disappointed. And numb. A young boy had been terrorized and his assailant was allowed to continue his life. Unfortunately, the problem with Trayvon Martin emanated years before he was born. The cancer that lead to his death caused his mother to have to do something a mother should never have to do, something horrifically inhumane—bury her own son. Further, Trayvon’s mother had to mourn the loss of her son publicly then sit through a trial that resulted in her son’s murderer being set free. How did we get here? It is not just because of a deeply flawed law that states, “…a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony” but rather a damaged world view that justifies the senseless death of a child based on fear. Because Travyon was a black, male, youth, he was considered more likely to be dangerous than any other child. He was a Boogeyman.
These fears are supported by a mythology perpetuated in our media. In college, while serving as an editor on the school newspaper, I suggested to a classmate that the news being reported in Chicago was skewed. Rarely, did I see an articulate African-American interviewed after a news worthy event took place. However, it was my white classmate’s opinion that they could not find anyone else and therefore the reporting was accurate. In subsequent years, I called into radio stations to argue against right-wing separatists and I was always cut off, even though I wrote my points in advance, timed them perfectly so that they were succinct and began to state them in a manner that was clear and accessible to anyone listening. Repeatedly, the phone clicked during the middle of my argument. Yet, I listened attentively as less prepared, unorganized, aggressive and, I hate to say it, inarticulate callers were able to pontificate endlessly. It harkened back to my original thesis, media perpetuates the myth of who we are.
This mythology of the Black Boogeyman was born during the slave trade and has endured until now. As an activist, I have responded to many postings on sites supporting the malignant lie that African-Americans are simply more violent. As a matter of fact, I had a heated discussion with a close friend, regarding the number of white drug dealers vs. black drug dealers. She couldn’t fathom the fact that there were more white drug dealers than black ones. The fact is there are more black ones in jail. So, her world view, like many across the country, has been shaped by the myth. But African-Americans do not commit most crimes and, according to FBI statistics, most violent crimes are committed by Caucasians. It is a fact that the war on drugs is the direct cause for the unbalanced number of African-American Males and Females in jail and they are saddled with ineffective council and laws that simply don’t make sense. This is indisputable. The other clear fact is that Caucasians commit more crimes across the board, and up to twice as many of the crimes in the categories of burglary, assault and rape. Yet, in 1993, Reverend Jesse Jackson said that if he saw black youth approaching him, he would cross the street to avoid them. Statistically, he would be more likely to be assaulted or robbed by a white male. Believing the myth is just part of a white, racist consciousness is dismissing its power. The myth is the reason jurors (some mothers themselves) could find any plausibility in Zimmerman’s story. Submitting to their own fears of black youth, they sat in solidarity with a murderer, who chased a child down after authorities asked him not to do so. He then killed him through the course of an altercation he caused in the first place. Fact.
We have created, support and promote the Black Boogeyman. Until rational, intelligent, progressive individuals, decide to eliminate “him,” the death of our youth will continue to appear justified, regardless at whose hand. I am fearful, as a mother of an African-American son. I am fearful that our son has to grow up aware that he may not get to make the same foolish mistakes that other young boys can. I am fearful he is watched more closely in the classroom; he is more likely to be stopped by, and possibly harmed by, police officers; he is more likely to be targeted by anyone who believes he is a threat. I am fearful because I am not going to able to protect him from everything he may face beyond the usual stages of life. I am fearful because he is not a Boogeyman, but he is a boy, like countless other boys, who deserves to grow up to be a man.