Trayvon Martin was not a gang banger, drug dealer, or user. He was not even a juvenile delinquent. He was a 17-year-old, headed to his family’s home at dusk with Skittles and iced-tea in hand to watch a basketball game. But he never arrived. Yards away from his doorstep, he was shot in the chest by a white male neighborhood watchman carrying a high-powered handgun.
Why? Was it because he was a black teen wearing a hoodie in a gated neighborhood where it was perceived that he did not belong? Was it because of the common perception that black teens or young black men walking any neighborhood with hoodies are up to no good?
But more than black teens and young black men wear hoodies. And, most of those that do are up to a lot of good. They are high school athletes, as Trayvon was. They are college athletes, or even law students as those from the Howard University Law School who came out in force this week to demonstrate in mass.
Hoodie wearers are also black, white, Hispanic, Asian – people of all races and ethnicities. They are boys, girls, young men, and young women, even older. The “One Million Hoodie March” in New York City to rally support to get justice for Trayvon Martin is proof of that. But, you did not have to see the rally to know that. All you have to do is to observe joggers, walkers in any city or community in the nation.
But why could wearing a hoodie spell imminent danger for a black teen, a black man? Why is the danger even greater in a suburban neighborhood if they are visiting family or even live there?
Yes, there are crimes committed by people wearing hoodies and other forms of disguises. But, is it stretching the stereotype that simply by seeing a black teen and black man wearing one, we should be wary, concerned, take defensive actions, ones that could be destructive, even deadly?
More importantly, if this incident was reversed and a black neighborhood watchman, shot a white teen wearing a hoodie, would the black man still be walking the streets or would he have been arrested?
It is a question worth asking. But, more importantly, it must be answered honestly and thoroughly. That can only be done by recognizing how the justice system treats black boys and black men vs. white boys and white men. The actions of the Sanford, Florida Police Department seem to reinforce this disparate treatment.
At the broader level, it must also address the dangers of judging a whole class or age group by harmful, often inaccurate racial stereotypes.
But until then, hoodie wearer, especially young black hoodie wearers should beware. Many black parents all over the country cannot be resting if their teens are coming home at dusk from a soccer game, band practice, a tutoring class — none of which poses danger to anyone.
We cannot bring Trayvon Martin back. But we can do things to send a powerful message to his family and decent families all across America that what happened to him is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.