Dawn and Trayvon, by Chris Bilalon May 4, 2012 at 9:36 pm
Its 5am. My room is shrouded in darkness, but the light of my humming laptop shines like a mirror in the desert. It is within this deserted hour, free from judgmental glances and insurmountable expectations, trapped with my rapid fire thoughts and rampant feelings, that my mind is most vivid. This is also the hour when the mask that Paul Lawrence Dunbar and I still share comes off. When I take it off, tear wells began to swell. Then a great flood came washing away Trayvon and Ramarley and Danroy and Duane and Gene and Jasmine and Elizabeth and all the people whose bodies have been claimed momentarily and forever through persistent profiling.
But then, unexpectedly, I began to cry for George Zimmerman because pity is the least manageable of my emotions. I cried for him and people of his ilk who fit another type of profile- those who dream of becoming a cop (and often do) in order to fulfill fantasies of media-masculinity by chasing down and/or gunning down bad guys. Bad guys, who in their improperly trained minds are by default persons of color. More tears fell because even in the face of reasonable evidence of murder, in this society’s privileged eyes, George Zimmerman is innocent.
Prisoner to my pre-dawn emotions, I slipped into the warm pit of my sometimes self-defeating liberal heart. My mind’s eye had no choice but to see how society arrived at this verdict. It is an eye that each day bears witness to America’s glorified culture of suspicion. This is a country where suspicion thrives in the personal and professional spheres of our lives. Suspicion is seen as healthy and therefore encouraged and it has become a coin in our cultural currency. Here, suspicion and speculation can make you a millionaire or a murderer, a hero or a villain. Everyone wants to be a heroic millionaire and we have just the selfish culture, one that values personal glory over collective damage, to support that ideal. Declare war first, shoot first, punch first, invest first, gentrify first, merge first, frack first- it is all the same. Taking dangerous risks against sound advice is a recurring theme in almost every best-selling American biography, box office crime caper and overnight success story. I see this everywhere I turn but more poignantly in the Martin case.
Throughout my life my eyes have met thousands of faces shrouded in suppressed resentment and immaculately conceived fear. This particular mask almost always cripples logic and good judgment. I can tell by the hurried glances, the extra apologies, the subway seating arrangements, the swift entering of homes – that some people are, without reason, afraid of me. Eventually, our country’s ritual of looking over our shoulders, reporting suspicious brown packages and brown men, and stopping people based off their skin color, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic conditions- manifests itself through violence. Zimmerman resorted, or rather succumbed to violence like so many others before him that have lived in a climate of fear and risk.
Before I settle for bed, I wipe away remaining tears, put my mask back on, and ask myself pressing questions because I don’t have the luxury of counting sheep. Why is it acceptable for police officers to legally stop, question, and harass people, but an outrageous national crime when a civilian does it? Each minute, police profile exactly as George Zimmerman did, in fact they get paid handsomely for it. It is company policy. In the last year alone, the NYPD stopped people they deemed suspicious 684,330 times. Many people were stopped more than once. 88% of all people stopped were Black or Brown. Many of them were youth of color. Like Trayvon, 88% of all people who were stopped were guilty of nothing more serious than carrying a bag of skittles- or in my case, laundry.\
Our Police Commissioner Ray Kelly thinks this is fine, that it makes us safer when we’re harassed and I am sure George Zimmerman would agree. When Zimmerman evokes the NRA’s brainchild “Stand Your Ground” law, isn’t he senselessly standing his ground just as Ray Kelly does, or any officer does when they defend stop and frisk claiming they just had to harass because someone posed a threat simply for being black, brown, gay, transgender, or homeless? Weren’t officers just standing their ground when they shot Danroy in the face after school? Or when they stop and frisk kids after school? If you look at the prison population, or the stop and frisk numbers, doesn’t it look like just being black is an “eminent threat” to an overwhelming number of people? If you break down the demographics of more than 684,000 incidents of stop and frisk in New York, wouldn’t you think that just being a person of color is sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion? If Zimmerman was NYPD, he’d be a decorated officer by now, stopping and frisking away without any marches or press conferences.
The psychology of a neighborhood watchman, frequent 9-1-1 dialer and judge’s son can’t be that distant from a sworn police officer’s. In fact Zimmerman’s behavior mimics New York’s policing practices. Their dubious justifications for committing violence are the same. The NYPD and Zimmerman both endorse shooting first and then creating shadowy legal justification later. They are both self-righteous in their use of unrestrained and unmatched violence. They remain remorseless, defensive and defiant in the face of overwhelming evidence and public outcry.
Finally neither aggressor understands how their questionable actions negatively impact their respective communities, which they somehow think, under the veil of a badge, they’ve made safer through unwarranted violence. Ask the 13 year old kid who heard the fatal gunshot and saw Trayvon’s lifeless body as he walked his dog if he feels safe. He was visibly shaken on camera and described being plagued by thoughts that he too could’ve been killed that night simply for being 13 and black. I task the defenders of racial profiling to speak to Trayvon’s teenage girlfriend and inquire about her sense of safety. She was on the phone with Trayvon just before he was murdered, shortly after he told her that a suspicious man was following him and that he was scared. I would ask you to ask Trayvon if he was fine with being profiled, but he’s dead.
Before anyone else’s kid gets shot and/or before another police officer gets shot (also someone’s kid), we need to change our nation’s attitude toward racial profiling and recognize that it is not a feasible solution and that it is often dangerous. One way to change this is to changethenypd.org first. Hopefully, then, Sanford, Florida won’t be far behind.