Protesters gather at a rally for Trayvon Martin in New York City's Union Square on March 21st, 2013
Yesterday, on what would have been Trayvon Martin’s eighteenth birthday, Representative Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from South Florida, introduced a resolution to honor the slain teen and, according to a statement from her office, urge “the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, and calling on the United States government to address the crisis of racial profiling.” The statement further reads:
Today, Trayvon Martin would have celebrated his 18th birthday. We all know the tragic circumstances surrounding his murder: Trayvon was racially profiled, chased, made to fight for his life, and ultimately murdered. Yet we as a nation have yet to take substantive action to stop such a heartbreaking incident from happening again. Enough is enough: We as a nation have buried too many young black boys. Let’s set Congress on course to address the underlying causes behind the crisis that Trayvon’s death symbolizes. Let’s take action to stop racial profiling and give our people a chance to succeed.
Wilson is right. We haven’t taken substantive action toward making sure what happened to Trayvon doesn’t happen again. A report from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that at the halfway point of last year, something killings similar to Trayvon’s occurred about 120 times, or once every thirty-six hours. Yet, here we are, nearly a year after Trayvon’s death captivated a nation, and the best we have managed is a resolution in his honor.
I support the language of Wilson’s resolution, though I would replace “racial” profiling with racist profiling, as to my mind the former doesn’t capture the entirety problem. But it also leaves me feeling as if we lack the will to grapple with the big questions that would ultimately lead us to the answers we truly need.
In the wake of such tragedies, we collectively feel the impulse to do something, because we don’t want the deaths of our loved ones to be in vain. But what we end up doing is making ourselves better prepared for the next time it happens, rather than trying to prevent it from happening altogether. We treat these things as naturally intractable parts of the human experience, when the truth is, there’s nothing natural about black boys dying at age 17.
But after Trayvon’s death, we focused much of our energy on discussing the Stand Your Ground law, which is a truly indefensible and overreaching law that grants more latitude than should be given in cases of self-defense. The problem isn’t that we want it repealed, but that Stand Your Ground isn’t what killed Trayvon; it’s what might help George Zimmerman get away with it. And as much as I have written and advocated for reducing the number of and access to guns, it wasn’t just the gun in Zimmerman’s hand that shot Trayvon. It was a historic rendering of black men as enemies of the state, menaces to society, threats to the American way of life, that caused Trayvon to lose his life that day. How do you legislate against that?
We can pass more and strengthen current racial profiling laws, but that only addresses the problem after the fact. We have to be more proactive and solutions oriented before our kids end up in the grave. Similar to “Ten Things to End Rape Culture” published here at The Nation, we need plans of action that start on a community level to root out racism before it gets a chance to pull another trigger. Or else we’ll be back here, again and again, passing more resolutions in honor of the fallen, wondering what can be done to prevent another tragedy like this from happening.
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