I must have been around 16 or 17 years old when I experienced my first overt racist encounter. This happens to be the same age that Trayvon Martin was when he met his tragic death. Unfortunately these types of racial encounters are something that most young black males will encounter.
My first encounter occurred when walking home from school with a group of friends in Riverside County, Ca. Our group consisted of black and Latino individuals, walking home as we normally did after school. This day would be vastly different from all the others and expose me the harsh realities of racism. It would also shape my disdain for racism in any form. I think my bi-racial background (a black father and a white mother) may have kept me from projecting my anger from this encounter to all white people.
As we walked home, a group of Skinhead teenagers/young adults exited a garage of one of the houses we passed. Upon exiting the garage they hurled racial epithets at us such as “nigger” and “spic” with weapons in hand. I remember one carrying a shotgun, another had a machete, and another had a handgun. The one with the handgun opened fire on us. As we turned to run, my friend Bobby took a bullet to the back of his head, just behind his ear.
I and another friend picked Bobby up to carry him with us. I just remember my clothes being covered in his blood. I had never seen so much blood in my life. We managed to carry him to a fire station not too far from where we were in order to get him some help. Due to this being a gunshot wound, the police were called to fire station. We gave our statements to the officer and an already horrible day was about to get even worse. The next thing we knew we were in handcuffs sitting on the curb. I still do not know why we were arrested when we were the victims, but we spent 3 days in Riverside County Juvenile Detention Center before being released.
I do not know what became of those that attacked us. I do not even know if they were arrested. I do know that I was never called as a witness, so I assume that nothing ever came of this case. As for Bobby, he survived the attack but lost his hearing in his right ear.
I was keenly aware of the Civil Rights Movement as I grew up, yet I thought that we were so far beyond that. I knew that racists like this existed but I thought they were in the backwoods of Southern states. Never did I think that in the melting pot that is California, I would experience something so hateful due to the color of my skin. To add insult to injury I got arrested for being a victim!!!
Here we are 23 years after my first encounter with racism and we have a young man gunned down in Florida for the color of his skin. It was assumed that Trayvon was up to no good due to the fact that he was black and the clothes that he had on. His assailant, George Zimmerman, stated as much on the 911 call that he placed that evening. He referred to Trayvon as “These people” which those within the black community have come to know as a racial slur. Enhanced audio uncovered by CNN, shows the state of mind that Zimmerman was in. He can be heard uttering the words, “F-ing coons” under his breath. Zimmerman maintains that this was self-defense but these key facts show his racist slant. He was also told by the 911 operator to stand down, but proceeded to follow Trayvon.
As for his self-defense claim, it is usually the case that self-defense means only that you can meet force with force. For example, if someone walked up to me and hit me, I can’t pull out my gun and shoot them. I am allowed to defend myself by striking back, but I can’t justify taking someone’s life for hitting me, this is unjustifiable force.
It is time that the lives of black men mean something. We have seen way too many Emmett Tills, Amadou Diallos, Sean Bells, Rodney Kings, James Andersons, and Trayvon Martins. Let’s put an end to this devaluation of black male life. My life means something as did Trayvon’s.
I am Trayvon Martin and I matter.