22 March 2012

Rest In Peace Trayvon; I no longer can

Trayvon Martin is a name that I really wish I didn’t know right now. It’s a name that will haunt my dreams, a name that pops up every time I see a black teenager walking down the street innocently minding their business yet loaded with so many stereotypes they might as well just dig a hole and crawl into it. Trayvon Martin, unlike so many victims this world has seen, is a name still too fresh to consign it into the history books as one of those issues that happened in the bad old days, it’s something that happened a few weeks ago, while I watched TV or sat reading ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. While I sat here enjoying the liberty of being alive, Trayvon Martin was shot to death for the crime of being alive.

For those of you not familiar with the case; Trayvon was a 17 year old black teenager living in the state of Florida in the United States of America. On the evening of the 26th of February 2012, Trayvon decided to go to the shops to, amongst other things, buy a bar of chocolate for his little brother. On the way home he was spotted by George Zimmerman, who for reasons best known to himself, started following Trayvon. Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious character, telling the dispatcher that Trayvon “looked high”, and was staring at buildings. Meanwhile Trayvon who was on the phone with his girlfriend told her he was being followed. She urged him to run, he refused, but as panic began to set in he fled, quickly followed by Zimmerman.

This is not a fairy-tale; they did not suddenly come to a realisation of the absurdity of the situation, they did not meet as two people who lived in the same neighbourhood and share pleasantries about the weather. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher Zimmerman cornered Trayvon, who apparently was now in a panic, and shot him. In the chest.

He is dead. I wish I could say that he is on CNN right now telling reporters about the absurd encounter in his own neighbourhood, laughing about it as the passage of time robs those fateful moments of their horror but no. He is dead and lying in a grave, his chocolates swept into a gutter somewhere, the chocolates that turned into his only defence against a man almost twice his age. He is dead and the silence is deafening, social media has not been set ablaze the way it burned with #Kony2012. Oprah hasn’t yet interviewed his family whose grieving at the senseless death must be just as valid as those who ‘grieved’ on Facebook at the innocent victims of Kony’s rampage. As I type this, halfway across the world in France, police are holed up outside the home of a suspected shooter yet in the United States of America, George Zimmerman is sitting at home, I picture him drinking hot chocolate and watching a rerun of Days of our Lives.

There is an injustice here! Do you see it? Do you see it marked out in big letters, screaming between the headlines. There is a 17 year old boy who is dead because a man took it upon himself to label him, in the same way we label strangers we meet every day. The woman wearing a headscarf must be oppressed by Islam, she needs to be saved. The black guy standing at the traffic lights selling sunglasses must be a high school dropout. But unlike us, George Zimmerman took those labels and made them real, made them living things, out of thin air George Zimmerman imagined the crack Trayvon must have been smoking. George imagined the slum Trayvon must live in, imagined that the only reason he was walking down the streets of Zimmerman’s neighbourhood was because he was planning a robbery. He was black, perhaps he was uneducated, illiterate, perhaps he didn’t understand English. How else does one explain George’s apparent failure to engage Trayvon in a conversation, ascertain in a non-lethal manner what “he was doing here”.

But then again, why did Trayvon have to justify his existence? Was his presence in that neighbourhood a crime against humanity? Was his world not designed to have rolling lawns and gated neighbourhoods, was his life one pledged to a gang, was the thing he was holding in his pocket a gun, ready to shoot the first innocent bystander? Surely George Zimmerman was saving the world. Some woman could sleep better that night knowing that Trayvon was shot dead, some poor High School cheerleader was not going to get raped and George’s flat screen Samsung LCD TV wasn’t going to be stolen. Surely, George Zimmerman is a hero, acting in self-defence, surely there must be a law hidden away in the Constitution of Great America that authorises a “pre-emptive strike”, a strike just as pre-emptive and just as deadly as that against Iraq in 2001. Surely there must be because, weeks later, the police are still looking for that clause as they let George Zimmerman prowl the street to save the young women and children of America from the likes of Trayvon Martin.

Armed with a chocolate, talking to his girlfriend on his way home from the shops, Trayvon must have represented the single greatest threat to American civilization since Rosa Parks threatened to contaminate an entire bus filled with whites. Black as he was, there was nothing good that he could have done; nothing innocent about walking the street that fateful afternoon. We shall never know, Trayvon lies in his grave, and perhaps the thought of him as an eliminated threat shall allow Zimmerman to sleep better at night. Meanwhile I shall sit here and continue to wish I had never heard his name because it all doesn’t make any sense. In this world of Obama’s and Universal Declarations of Human Rights, it just doesn’t fit in at all. I would be better off forgetting the name. The problem is I can’t, and if it means anything to you to live in a world that is free and fair and just; neither will you.


  1. It fills me with a boiling sense of cynicism. Silence sometimes is the loudest statement - perhaps the man who shot this boy hoped it would go away - but it isnt going away. The silence, like noise, has triggered an outrage. Reading your piece, I feel a profound sense of sadness.

    1. Back in Cape Town Paola told me the media was biased in ways that sometimes it didn't realise, I think this story is one of the strongest proofs of that statement. We need to start telling our own stories or risk being swept up into the euphoria of #Kony movements and their faux activism, instead of focusing on the untold stories that need to be told, need the weight of public opinion to force justice to come about.

  2. that's the story :(