On February 26, 2012, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. On August 9, 2014, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, not far from the St. Louis neighborhood where I was born and raised, Michael Brown was shot and killed.
Two separate incidents more than two years apart, yet joined by common elements.
Both Martin, 17, and Brown, 18, were African American teenagers. Both, unarmed, were shot and killed following an altercation with law enforcement personnel, Martin by George Zimmerman, a community watch volunteer, and Brown by an as yet unidentified officer of the Ferguson police department. Both were said to have been involved in confrontations, scuffling with those who were said to fear for their safety before pulling their triggers in self-defense; explanations that were met with outraged skepticism throughout largely African American communities nationwide. Subsequently, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second degree murder, placed on trial and, on July 13 of last year, found not guilty. Currently, in Ferguson, the days and nights are filled with many angry voices and marching feet of candlelit protest, and, by some, rioting and looting.
I am sad about the deaths of Trayvon and Michael. Sad for their parents and families and friends. Sad for the loss of their human potential. Sad for the unrest in their communities.
I also am sad in my fear that this – the death of a young African American male at the point of gun barrel, particularly when held in the hand of an authority figure, whether volunteer or professional – will happen again. My trepidation is rooted in my dismay that we, as a nation, cannot seem to come to fitting, faithful resolution about gun laws and about police conduct, especially vis-à-vis racial profiling.
A young black man is killed and the public debate about these matters begins anew, swiftly swelling to high decibel levels of epithetical pronouncements of blame, then, soon enough, lowering to loud grumbling, then incessant whispering, then silence…until another young black man is killed.
There has to be another, better way.