My father was ten years old, living in Birmingham, Alabama when Emmett Till was killed. An incident, spurred by 14 year old Emmett Till allegedly flirting with a white woman. Two days later he was found brutally murdered with a face that was unrecognizable by anyone save for his mother Maime Till. Instead of opting for a closed casket for her son's funeral, his mother wanted for it to be open so that the whole country and world could see what these white men did to her son. His nose and eye had to be sewn back onto his face and photos were put on the covers of national magazines as if to say, "THIS! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR CHILDREN. JUST FOR BEING BLACK". My father was ten when he saw Emmett's face on the cover of Jet magazine. My father hasn't read Jet in nearly six decades.
College was full of turmoil that eventually manifested itself in my need to see a psychotherapist. It wasn't just the big stuff like the bombing of the Pentagon just five miles away or the sniper that terrorized the DC area for two months. One day I received a call from my father that one of my brothers had been shot. He was shot nine times by a police officer which was later noted to use excessive force. It was the following year that my younger brother was suspended for punching a fellow student in the face after that student repeatedly called my brother and other students 'niggers'. My baby brother was angry. Of course he was. My mother angrier than I'd ever seen her in my then 23 years but he managed to rise above it all and now he'll be graduating from law school in May. I tend to wallow and my anger only forces me into extreme dislike of those who have wronged me but he didn't get that gene didn't. I don't know how he did it but he did. He's now the well-dressed black man you see walking down the street. Your future prosecutor.
"It comes with the territory", is what so many black men will say and shrug. My father and brothers have seen the wrong end of a baton, they've been followed, pulled over, interrogated, treated as less than human due to the color of their skin. They've persevered and gotten through it. They have learned what all black men learn: stay silent, do whatever the cop tells you to do, don't talk back, hands visible, be articulate, try to blend. They, like all black men, just try to get by each and everyday by showing how non-threatening they are. Despite all of it my father, my brothers, and many other black men have been lucky and that is where my heart sinks. Lucky because they haven't been killed for being black and walking down the street, therefore suspicious. Lucky.
Trayvon Martin was 17 years old when he was killed. Seven - fucking - teen. Killed because he was walking in a predominately white neighborhood with a hoodie on. George Zimmerman, will tell you that he looked suspicious and that is why he approached an unarmed teenager with a gun. I'd ask why this particular 17 year old looked suspicious but I am a black woman and I know it all too well; suspicious because he was a black kid walking through a white neighborhood and far too many people don't like young black boys. George Zimmerman will tell you that he thought he had a weapon. His weapon of choice was a can of ice tea and a bag of skittles. George Zimmerman will tell you that he was defending himself but if you listen to the 911 calls from that evening it was Trayvon Martin screaming HELP and when the gun goes off it's Trayvon Martin who is silent. It's Trayvon Martin who is dead.
The first time I saw Emmett Till's photos and his mother pointing out his injuries, I had nightmares for weeks; in fear that I could have the same fate. "That was a long time ago. That wouldn't happen to you.." is what I was told but it's not true because in 2012, 57 years later, we still have young black boys being killed for being black. They are killed, threatened, and not allowed the opportunity to persevere and know that despite what so many in society might think, they can and will do great things. They don't get that opportunity because to be black in America in 2012 means the same as it did in 1955. Except now we can vote. We can ride in the front of the bus. We can even be President. But what what people don't realize is that sometimes, what we - the black community - would like most is to be able to walk down the street without getting looked at twice.
Sometimes the it's the most simple things that are the hardest to get.
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