The Difference Between Trayvon and I

It is almost laughable when you think about how many Americans continue to ignore the proverbial pink elephant in the room and act like race had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s fate.  However, I do believe that we would devalue Trayvon’s story, if we only focused on the obvious racial implications, for this case runs deeper than race and bigotry.

This case has exposed poorly written legislation such as Florida’s Stand Your Ground and how it can be arbitrarily applied. I lived in Florida for nearly 30 years and had never heard of the law.  As a black man, the way in which it was applied in the Trayvon Martin Case makes me very nervous, given our country’s history of racial bias in the courtroom.

Emmett Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell and now Trayvon Martin are all part of an all too familiar American narrative, of black men, who have been forced to drink from the bitter cup injustice. George Zimmerman is also part of another narrative, of white defendants who have perpetuated violence towards black men and have been let off the hook by our court system.

Furthermore, this case reminds us of the underlying idea that some peoples’ lives have less value because of where they are from or their position along the spectrum of America’s socioeconomic hierarchy. The continued probing and questioning of Trayvon’s character during the trial had nothing to do with the fact that he was unarmed and fatally shot on his way to his father’s house from the store. Digging up unflattering images and comments made by Trayvon was not only an attack on him, it was an attack on anyone who looked like him, spoke like him or grew up like him. We were all being judged.

No one’s fundamental right to life and liberty should be compromised because of the clothes they wear or because of the genre of music that they listen to. Too many of our young people (especially black boys) are simply snatched away from us with no regard or recourse.

To make matters worse, the gun companies have lawmakers by the balls, making guns entirely too accessible, inevitably, setting up scores of calamitous incidents, such as the clash between Martin and Zimmerman, resulting in endless queues of bereaved families.

Trayvon will never be the first in his family to graduate from college. He will never have a chance to become a teacher, a coach or give back to his community. He will never have a chance to get married, to travel the world, to become a proud father or be elected president of the United States. A little more than a decade ago, I was Trayvon Martin, a black kid from Miami, Florida.

Image
A photo taken of a young Barack Obama smoking, marijuana. During the trial, Trayvon’s character and integrity were brought into question because he smoked and use the phrase “creepy ass cracker.”

So what is the difference between Trayvon and I?

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Do You Speak Haitian?

Florida has the largest Haitian population outside of Hisapniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Nearly  400 hundred thousand people of Haitian descent reside in Florida and yet Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s defense attorney, did not know that Haitians do not speak Haitian. I was aghast. Haitian is not a language. This is a sad example of the lack of cultural awareness on the behalf of Zimmerman’s legal team. Do Americans speak American? Do Cubans speak Cuban? Do Jamaican’s speak Jamaican? For the record, Haitians speak Creole (Kreyol). I would not expect someone from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to know that. On the other hand,  anyone who lives in Florida and is working a high-profile case such as this one, should.

Even after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the entire planet witnessed  the toll over 200,000 lives taken,  while  another million people were left homeless, you would think that Zimmerman’s counsel would get it right. Granted, Rachel Jeantel is not the most articulate witness. Being Haitian-American myself, I will admit at times that I was embarrassed by Ms. Jeantel’s behavior and demeanor on the stand, but she was totally out of her element and dealing with the loss of her close friend. Zimmerman’s defense team had no excuse for not doing their research on a case with obvious cultural implications. In America, we have this disconnection that gives us the silent permission to dismiss certain subcultures. This is dangerous and quite frankly irresponsible.

Mr. O’Mara, after this is all over, please purchase a map and locate Haiti. I hear that the people there led the only successful slave revolt in human history and established the first black republic in the world in 1804.

“Do you speak Haitian?” Really?

Rachel Jeantel is being questioned by Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's defense attorney.
Rachel Jeantel being questioned by Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s defense attorney. During his examination, Mr. O’Mara asked Ms. Jeantel if she spoke Haitian.