Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trayvon Martin: My Story

It was a Saturday night. I'd spent the evening in my favorite coffeehouse, although I intended to get work done, like always I'd spent most of the night goofing off on Facebook. Then I saw it. Someone said he'd been found innocent. I perked up. I immediately went to and then to confirm it. "Oh no," I blurted out. The Indian man to my right who was speaking to a white woman held up his phone and said "you must have heard about this," as he showed me the news he'd just received.

I sank into my chair and sobbed. I cried long and hard in the middle of the coffeehouse. I heaved in and out as I tried to grasp what just happened. A white guy saw a young black guy, assumed he was dangerous when he wasn't, killed him  and a jury of his all white peers found him innocent. Not a single charge stuck. I cried. I cried and cried. The white barista who I'd come to know on a friendly basis saw me and asked what was wrong. I told her they'd found Zimmerman innocent. I told her that what it meant on a grand scale was that in my country, its okay to shoot someone that looks like me. She looked at me and said "its not okay."

I sat in the coffeehouse for the next 20 minutes and stewed. The same white patrons that had been there before the verdict was announced, suddenly irritated me. They laughed and joked among themselves. I'd wondered if they'd heard the verdict. But a bigger part of me didn't care. Whether they heard the verdict or not, they'd never know. They'd never understand the feeling of having someone look at you and doubt your intelligence or your character. They'd never know what it was like to genuinely fear for all of your male friends and family because they'd be considered walking bulls-eyes. They wouldn't know the pain of knowing your ancestors built the country you reside in, yet people that look like you are treated like suspects. As it grew later, I knew I needed to leave. Too many white people. I was angry. I saw blood.

Despite being in a heavily populated area, since it was primarily white, they partied like always. It was 11'o clock on a Saturday night and the bars were starting to fill up. I saw white people walk through the area, laughing like everything was okay. I hated each and every one of them. I knew I didn't know them, but I didn't care. I knew it was wrong to look at them and hate them for the color of their skin, but I didn't care. I thought about the many loving and kind white people that I know personally, but I didn't care. I wanted and needed answers. I needed it to make sense.

I met a guy that night and found out he was in the music industry. We got to talking for a few hours as I drove him home and I was glad for the distraction. I told myself that he was a blessing because he helped to take my mind away from what just happened. He was only 23 and a tad too young to really see and feel things the way I did so we never discussed the trial or verdict. The moment he exited my car, I broke into sobs again.

I went home and stayed glued to my computer until 4 a.m. Although I'd hoped I'd wake and find the hurt lessened, I knew I wouldn't. I was right. I awoke around 9 a.m. and I was just as enraged as I was the night before. I saw that many of my Facebook friends had blacked out their pictures as forms of protests. Some were discussing meetings and rallies. Some were criticizing the prosecution, some were blaming white folks. Everyone was angry as hell though. I couldn't help but to notice that many of my white Facebook friends didn't comment on the verdict at all. I understood that many of them could never completely understand how we felt and why we were as upset as we were. Again, I struggled to not dislike (or even hate them) because of their skin.

That same morning after the verdict was announced, I had to go to the pet store where I work part-time on weekends. I dragged myself like I've done after the heavy nights of weekend partying. But this day was much harder. Normally after my nights of partying, I go in with a slight smirk, and what my boss calls my "club makeup" as I work through my lingering buzz from the night before and my slightly faded eye shadow and fresh coat of lip gloss. This day was so much more difficult. Once again, I saw white people. But this time, I saw their fucking dogs. All I could think is that Michael Vick did 2 years for fighting dogs, yet a sonofabitch like Zimmerman shot an unarmed black kid and he went free. In the same fucking country where I work and pay taxes. I remember thinking that in this country those damn dogs had more right to a peaceful life than I do.

None of my white coworkers said too much to me. I think they saw me and they knew. I walked in and nodded at them, while I found myself having full blown conversations with my black coworkers. I didn't mean to alienate or disrespect them. Its just that in that moment, I knew they'd never know and didn't want false sympathy. I wanted to comfort and be comforted by people that completely understood how I'd felt. And I knew that no matter how much they wanted to share the load, they'd simply never be able to wrap their minds around what was in my heart. I stuck to my black coworkers, avoided my white coworkers, and only spoke to the white coworkers when I needed to. I'm not sure if my white coworkers noticed it, but I observed that my black coworkers hung to one another a tad more than we'd ever done. I excused myself to the bathroom to cry three times during my 3 hour shift. I walked away as I needed to and they simply filled in for me with no words said. At one point a black customer asked how I was. I focused my puffy eyes on him and said "trying to maintain." He replied "I understand" as he shook his head.

The day after that (2 days after the verdict) came word that Juror B37 was planning to write a book. Quite a fucking slap in the face. The bitch had the nerve to free that fucking animal that killed an unarmed child and now the bitch was trying to profit from it. Un-fucking-believable. The rage started to lessen, but the nerve of some people was simply appalling. Around the same time the rallies were starting to organize as more and more public figures started to speak out about the verdict. I'm not even going to begin to go in on the interview the bitch did where she sat oblivious to pretty much everything the verdict meant and stood for.

Around the same time, some people had also started to talk about boycotting Florida over the "Stand Your Ground Law" which, though never used by the defense, still sparked outrage by many. I found myself contemplating whether I should still take my vacation to Florida. I'd promised my son that I'd take him to see my mother who resided a little outside of Orlando and I desperately needed the beach. But my pain was still raw and although I knew I wouldn't spend a lot of money on my vacation, I was still hesitant to spend a dime in the same state that let Zimmerman get away with slaughtering a 17-year-old child.

Two weeks later, I drove to Florida anyway. I'd told myself that this time if I went there, I'd absolutely have to do Sanford. I'd wanted to do it before, but I knew that this time around, I would definitely do it. I'd told a few friends that I wanted to go and while some of them thought the idea seemed cool, others couldn't figure out why I'd want to do something like that. All I knew was that my spirit told me to do it, so I did.

The first thing was trying to find the address. I did some Google magic and found it. I gassed up my car and I hit I-4 going east. A part of me was geeked. I had no idea what I'd find. Since the news had constantly referred to it as a "gated community" I figured it would be impossible to enter, so I'd simply stay at the front, admire the cards, flowers, and teddy bears that were placed there, pay my respects and leave. 

I saw the clouds accumulating in the direction I was driving in and hoped that something up there would be with me and allow me to do whatever my spirit told me to do. I got off the exit as the rain started. I figured I would simply stop at a store, make a friend or two, ask a few questions and wait until the rain stopped.  As to be expected from Mapquest, the bastards gave me the wrong directions. I went into the area and couldn't find it the street I looked for, so I decided to stop at a store and look for a friendly face to ask for directions. 

I went into a TJ Maxx and looked around for a friendly (brown) face. I looked. And looked. All I seemed to see where the faces of conservative whites, and despite being moderately warm with their hellos as I walked past, at no point did I really feel genuinely welcome. Although I wanted to speak to a local and get some directions, I was careful to not stand out too much. An older black woman eventually made eye contact with me, so I smiled back and asked if she was local. She kindly responded "no." Somehow I got the feeling that she lied because she didn't want to answer questions, but I let it go. I even tried the Target across the street, but again I didn't seem to come across anyone that could aid me. I texted some friends and told them where I was and told them what I was doing there. I explained that I felt like I was on Mars as I looked for a friendly face that would be open to speaking with me. One friend suggested that I look for a young white person that looked friendly and liberal. Again, my choices were slim. I was blessed enough to find a Starbucks and although I went in and saw a few young whites, none of them were old enough to really grasp why I was there. I left on my own to find what I'd come for.

I eventually found what I'd looked for and while I'd contemplated before where I would park, I found an elementary school across the street from the subdivision. I'd finally made it to The Retreat at Twin Lakes. I parked my car there while I walked across the street to the front of the community. 
I stood outside for a moment as I studied the area. Not a single teddy bear, card, flower or anything. Where was the huge outpouring of love that I'd been expecting? I expected the air to be heavy with death and sadness. Not the case. Strangely enough, it was pretty boring. Nothing out of the ordinary. There was no kind of indicator that the source of the biggest court trial regarding the death of a black man since Emmett Till happened right inside of the gates. A few cars drove by me as  I stood outside and I made it my point to avoid eye contact and to not arouse any suspicion. I knew why I was there, as did the residents, but still I didn't want to risk any cops or security, so I kept a low profile.

Then I observed that several cars came in and and went. Then my gears started turning and it occurred to me that I could easily walk through the gate after one of the cars or possibly even crawl under the gate. Then the little devil on my shoulder told me to turn the knob at the pedestrian gate, so I did. And it opened.

I walked through the door unsure of what to do next. While I'd anticipated reflecting at the front, I certainly didn't expect to make it through the gate.  I walked in and walked to the right. It was far quieter than I'd expected. For a brief moment I wondered what I'd do if I saw Zimmerman. I like to think I'd be a badass, but truthfully, I don't always think well on my feet so I probably would have just smiled weakly or given some kind of apathetic head nod and kept it rolling. 

So many cars were there, indicating that people were home, yet very few people were outside. I decided to see if I could find the spot where Trayvon was killed. I called a few friends to see if any of them could get online and find the address, yet none of them could. I hung up and decided to try it from my phone. 

To my amazement, the name of the street I'd been standing on matched the address I found online.   While I looked online it talked about a path he'd been on that led to the subdivision clubhouse. The street address was 1111 Retreat View Circle (the house on the right in the picture). I walked around until I found it. I knew from the pictures I'd seen online regarding the trial, that this was the spot. I froze. 
Oddly enough, I didn't really feel anything. This was the spot that led to countless marches and tears. While the residents here were sleepy and bored, and ready to move on with their lives, and while my city, Atlanta, was ablaze with passion and rage over what happened in this one spot, it was just a friendly neighborhood corner. I heard a man behind me on the phone loudly, talking about something random at work. A few people drove by me as I took pics. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. It was literally Anytown, USA. I kept an eye out for a friendly face, and again, nothing much was available. I also kind of giggled at the fact that there was no "friendly neighborhood watch" to ask me what the hell I was doing there. I kept to myself and so did the locals.

For the first time, it actually started to make sense. Of course, I felt outrage about the George Zimmerman verdict. I'm a black woman, from a black city, constantly surrounded by young, beautiful, educated, progressive black people. But in this small little subdivision, a young tall, lanky black kid could would easily be seen as a threat to those that didn't care enough to see past what they wanted to see, or what they didn't know to look past. The aloof attitude of B37 finally made sense as well. Here, in this little bubble of Earth, they don't care because they don't have to. Race didn't have to matter to her here, because here, she was the race that was protected. Women like her "belong" in Sanford. Conservative, aloof, unaware, and unknowing of how aloof and unaware she really is. As a black urbanite, its amazing how I'm almost oblivious to my own race until the moment I step outside of my own neighborhood.

I decided to eventually follow the path that was so widely talked about online and on the 911 tapes. I walked the path and it occurred to me that he'd entered the subdivision and walked through the back past the lake and onto the corner. As I walked along the path, a dog barked and walked toward me. I smiled at it as the white owner told it to heel. Again, I walked toward the front and realized that if I'd turned around, that would be the view that Trayvon took toward his destination. So I took the pic. The side near the trees is where Retreat View Circle is, where I'd taken the picture at the intersection.
 Thankfully, but at the same time, I was disappointed that no one spoke to me. I wanted answers. I wanted opinions. But I knew what it was. They were tired. They'd dealt with the trial for year and a half. Those that were willing to talk to outsiders had already done so. They just wanted to move on with their lives in their sleepy little town. They didn't know, nor did they really care that the rest of the country was outraged at what happened in their their backyard. The trial was over and they were ready to move forward. And they want everyone else to do the same thing. 

Trayvon's death is just an unfortunate accident to some. But we know it was more. And we cannot sit back idly and allow moments and times like this to vanish, like those residents and like the rest of America wants us to.


Daisy said...

This was very well written. I feel you man!

Samuel Stephens said...

Great post Malika!!!!!!

yesman said...

That's a great piece, Malika. You're a wonderful writer.

Malika the Genius said...

Thank you so much.