Are we all Trayvon Martin? White people all over the United States have taken up that slogan, and put on hoodies for a day, in a well-meaning expression of dismay and anger and a well-intentioned show of support.
But, no, I am not Trayvon Martin. Not even close.
I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a middle-aged white man. I’ve been pulled over by the police a few times in my life for minor traffic violations — I lived for many years without incident in a place where, as an African-American friend told me several times, a black motorist was at high risk of being pulled over by the state police for “driving while black.”
I am not Trayvon Martin. Neither are my children.
My three kids could walk through the streets of that Florida neighborhood at any time, night or day, and not be followed in a car and then on foot by a wannabe cop carrying a concealed weapon. If, say their elderly grandfather lived in a gated community in Florida, and they went to visit him, and they decided to walk a few blocks to the convenience store, chances are excellent that they would not wind up shot dead on the street.
We are not Trayvon Martin, thank God, as the land of the free and the home of the brave has turned into a place where — as Bob Dylan puts it in his great song “Blind Willie McTell” — “power and greed and corruptible seed seem to be all that there is.”
From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, from Bull Connor standing in the doorway to the U.S. Supreme Court’s shameful ruling allowing states to return to the days when intimidation and and double-standards were used to keep minorities from the polls, what has changed in America?
Some things have not changed. People in this country are still measured by the color of their skin and not the content of the character. A black teenager walking down the street, day or night, runs the risk of never coming home every time he or she walks out the door — gunned down, perhaps, by a stray bullet in the streets of Chicago…gunned down, perhaps, by a gun-toting stranger in a gun-crazy land.
And some things have changed for the worse — like neglect of the poor, repression of those who pose a perceived threat to the power elite, and an awful apathy, stunning self-absorption and sad self-deception that grip the heart and soul of this nation, from sea to shining sea.