Much has written about Trayvon Martin’s death, which occurred weeks ago, and I have watched as the story slowly carved out airtime. I guess that is good. The more attention that is brought to the incident through articles (such as Charles Blow’s), the more the public will cry a foul, and just maybe “justice” will be served? However, I am not holding my breath. I have seen this before. This furor. This story, which is why I have not read any of the articles written about the killing.
I first caught wind to this classically American story structure while growing up in the sleepy suburb of Compton. I was eight and in the second grade when much ado was made over the Rodney King verdict. I can still recall sitting in front of our television set watching the helicopter footage of a pickup truck rolling down a street as firebombs glided from its bed on buildings. Sometime, I remember sitting on my grandmothers floor entranced by images of a truck driver being pulled out of his vehicle and beaten, only for me to return home later that day and play basketball in my backyard as ash fell from the sky like would presume snow would. Such is life. Life, too, was being summoned into the bustling principal’s, along with my older sister, that same week to call our emergency contact, our grandmother (who lived closer to the rioting than we did). Though the riot had not spread into Compton (it never did), school officials deemed it unsafe for students to attend school. She came. We left.
Latasha Harlins was only fifteen in 1991 when she was gunned down by a liquor store clerk over orange juice. She was shot in the back of the head as she tried to walk out of the store sans orange juice. Now, I do not recalled this incident personally. I had just turned seven, and my young mind was on more pressing matters like whether I would to get see Darryl Strawberry that summer; however, thanks to artists like Tupac, and, to a greater extent, Ice Cube, Latasha became a footnote in my mind. (How can one listen to Tupac repeatedly mention Latasha in his songs (and this one) and not be curious about her story? He even dedicated his “Keep Ya Head Up” to her.) In college, while listening to a lot of 90s hip-hop and rap I missed out on as a youth, introduced to Death Certificate by a classmate, and on is “Black Korea”. Racism aside, Ice Cube seemed even more angry than usual, which is impressive because he was always angry. That lead me to Latasha and her orange juice.
There are other incidents. More recently, a young man shot in the back and killed when the police “mistook” his cell phone for a weapon. On Manchester and Crenshaw several years ago, three unarmed young men were shot by an officers. My personal favorite is the newly wed who called the police only to be mistaken for the intruder and killed. These incidents are only the headlines I can recall from memory as I type this post. This is why I am unaffected by Trayvon Martin’s killing. His death symbolizes nothing new. This is life for many of us. Just perusing through thrift stores is challenging. I never know if I will be accused of being suspicious, so I slightly exaggerate every movement I make sure you and I both know that I am not attempting to steal anything. Until a few years ago, I would raise my hands above my shoulders whenever I walked into a small store of any kind. Even for fairly “educated” Black males, a “misunderstanding” can turn deadly. And this is life. This is no hyperbole. This is the women at the Target in Buckhead shifting her purse from the left side of her basket to the right as I walked past. This is black door man who stopped me twenty feet outside of the Staples in Westchester to ask me if I stole pens. Upon displaying the lint in pocket, he politely asked if I went to Morehouse. (Apparently, he had seen me in the store before with my regalia on.) I am pretty sure he has seen this before, from my side of the sidewalk.
Like the door man, criminal accusations and violent deaths come with the skin. Headline’s like Trayvon’s happen so often they no longer shock nor appall me. I have seen it before. I have grown indifferent to them and the stories attached. I do not read them. I have been seeing these headlines montaged with saddened tweets to know the story. They are akin to Tyler Perry movie posters: I know what to expect, and I will not like it. I will not watch. It will only upset me. Why get upset when it is life? Not all of us will make it to Paris. I know. It does not have to but if, but it is. Once this outcry reaches fever pitch and “justice” is done, I will feel the same. As Doughboy said at the end of Boyz n the Hood, “either they don’t know. Don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”