July 18, 2013

Echoes of History

I wrote this post Saturday night, just after I received word that the Sanford, FL, jury hearing the George Zimmerman murder case had acquitted him of all charges.  I was on Twitter at the time - hence the 140-character paragraphs.  I decided to keep my thoughts in their original format, as kind of an experiment in micro-blogging. 

late Saturday, a friend called in tears: "they found him not guilty. his mama had to listen to him kill her baby. what am I supposed to do with that?"

good Q reminded me of when my son was born. joy, then a tiny bit of heartbreak: "shit. we brought a black boy into this world."

around that time - 2004 - I was city editor for a regional paper, but still a black suspect, esp. on an empty city street blocks fr. home in "liberal" Cambridge, MA.

1 a.m., pocket full of cash from ATM run - cab fare for a trip to the airport the next day. at a corner, I saw a cop car. my antenna went up: they saw me.

any black man knows what I felt next: "fuck." ice in the gut. cop car followed me, slowly, for two blocks, then turned w/me up my street. "shit. here we go again."

one block from my urban middle-class home - one stinking block - blue lights; spotlight in my face. then, questions: "where are you going? where were you?"

fought panic: wad of cash in my pocket, no ATM receipt. remined myself: stay cool. don't get angry. "got ID? stay there." spotlight. blue lights. anger. humiliation. frustration. stayed cool.

radio traffic on the cop car: "no, that's not him." spotlight goes out, car pulls away. no apology. no explanation. no surprise. no justice.

same thing happened to my dad, an aspiring artist: Philly,1950s, before Miranda & brutality lawsuits. cops beat him up, tossed him in jail, then let him go.

his crime: walking while black. in a white neighborhood. in broad daylight.

that night in Cambridge was 3rd or 4th time I'd been stopped while black; once, they were looking for a mugger. my wallet: on my dresser, forgotten. cop's hand was on his gun.

 never beaten or jailed, but the rage never vanishes. city editor? White House journalist? black man. suspect. "prove you're not a criminal."

Stand your ground is a bad law that cost a teenager his life; still, it's repealable. less so: WWB, an unwritten law that's generations old.

WWB seduced the Sanford watchman; Stand Your Ground was a convenient defense.

WWB landed my dad in jail and nearly got me shot. more than once. Trayvon is only the latest victim: Michael Stewart, Amadou Diallo, Emmit Till.

it's egalitarian: newspaper reporters, bus drivers, college professors - think "beer summit." even cops, sometimes shot by their own homes.

 WWB survives like a roach after nuclear war.  a black president can't change it. it's invisible to most whites, incl. the Supreme Court.

I have a son, a 10 YO black boy with autism: hears, sees the world differently. I'll love him, teach him best I can. and pray for progress.

but history tells me he'll face a cop - or a neighborhood watchman man with a license to kill - who thinks his skin color and gender = suspicion and/or guilt. WWB gets applied.

will he play it cool, alive but with a wound that won't heal? will he buck and fight like Trayvon?

will I have to identify his screams on a 911 recording in a police office or courtroom? I pray I won't.

 but the echoes of history are too powerful to ignore.

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