Trayvon Martin mural

OPINION | His Name Was Trayvon Martin

A letter to Roman, Alexander, Serea, and Jada.

by Marcus Harrison Green

A version of this article was originally co-published with The Seattle Times.

Today is the 11th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.

You’re not yet old enough to know that his name should mean something to each of you. But I can’t recall his life without thinking of yours. 

He took his last breath when he was only 15 years older than you are now, my great-nephews, and 14 and 13 years older than you, my great-nieces.

Trayvon was killed by fear, a fear that you might one day face. A fear that in the eyes of many would morph you from children into beasts. 

He wasn’t the only, nor the first, nor the last Black person to lose their life in this way. But for many in my generation, his death was the shrieking revelation that our nation still firmly scorns Black life.

Eleven years ago, on Feb. 26, 2012, a self-professed neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman shot and killed him. Trayvon, a teenager, was walking back to the apartment of his father’s girlfriend after picking up a package of Skittles and a can of iced tea from a local convenience store. 

Trayvon had done nothing to provoke Zimmerman, had wronged him in no way nor committed any crime. Yet, on a rainy day, Zimmerman took it upon himself to approach Trayvon, who he profiled as a criminal because of the youth’s hoodie and dark skin.

As Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, would tell me and other attendees during a 2019 conference, “The media denigrated my son for wearing a hoodie … [but] bigots in America have been wearing hoods for a hundred years.”

Unfortunately, in this country, you’ll find that Black men wearing hoodies still arouse more fear than the actions of bigots.

Zimmerman approached Trayvon, even as police told him not to do so. They struggled, and Zimmerman shot and killed him.

He halted Trayvon’s life at 17 years old.

Even though Zimmerman confessed to fatally shooting Trayvon and was brought in for questioning by local police, it would take 45 days to charge him, and only after public demonstrations and national outcry. 

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. Zimmerman would be acquitted on July 13, 2013, and go on to auction off the gun he used to kill Trayvon for hundreds of thousands of dollars, calling it a “piece of American history.”

Zimmerman’s acquittal would forever shatter my illusion of a nation fully accepting the inalienable right of Black people to live, simply live, free from the constant prospect of horror.

It is an illusion impossible of resuming. 

Following Zimmerman’s acquittal, Alicia Garza, Ayọ Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, a phrase that would echo after the death of Freddie Gray, and then again after the death of Alton Sterling, and then again after the death of Breonna Taylor, and then again after the death of George Floyd, and then again after the death of Tyre Nichols.

People never desired to be but became martyrs in a society still sickened by an addiction to white supremacy — and the violence, suffering, and miseducation it inflicts in order to survive. Just as in the case of Tyre Nichols, as you’ll one day learn, Black people are not immune from being carriers of this disease. They can easily become instruments of terror within their communities. 

In every case since before and after Trayvon’s death, marchers would demand justice for the slain. They would receive it in the cases of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery only after sweeping nationwide protests during the middle of a pandemic, and after horrific video evidence eliminated any shred of doubt that their deaths were murder. 

Perhaps I should celebrate these examples as progress in the 11 years since Trayvon’s death. Perhaps I should welcome the signs and placards that hang in storefront windows and litter every third lawn in our city exclaiming “Black Lives Matter.”

But throughout it all, your great-uncle asks: What, if anything, has significantly changed to keep you from suffering Trayvon’s fate?

It is no great thing that justice must still be demanded rather than expected. Make no mistake, justice is not asking that a murderer be held accountable for those he murdered.

Justice is living in a society where a man will not die while out jogging simply because he is Black. Justice is where a 19-year-old girl will not be killed for asking for directions simply because her skin strikes fear into her shooter. Justice is a society in which our Black population does not have 74,402 excess deaths per year when compared with our white population. 

Injustice occurs whenever fear triumphs over love. 

Our world is unfair, and unjust. 

This is why my love for you — and that of your parents, grandparents, and all your kin — may never be enough to protect you. I wish this country could see you and think of the gleam of wonder in your eyes as you witnessed your first snowfall the December before last. 

I wish I could make this country forever picture you with oversized glasses perched on your bubbly cheeks as you wore stethoscopes twice the size of your heads while you played doctor. Perhaps that would forbid this country from ever viewing you as monsters. 

As you grow, I wish there was a way to make America remember the joy of your laughter whenever your grandmother tickles your belly, and the radiance of your smiles illuminated by the silly face contortions your parents make to amuse you. 

If only this country could share the full force of your lives, perhaps it could share the anguish, pain, and scars leftover if you ever shared Trayvon’s fate. 

If love were enough, there would not have been 179 days last year when police killed Black people. If love were enough, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Renisha McBride, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Latrel Williams, Charleena Lyles, Atatiana Jefferson, Tyianna Alexander, Bianca “Muffin” Bankz, Dominique Jackson, and Manuel Ellis would be alive today. If love were enough, it would be impossible to transform you into a threat by the time you enter kindergarten

Because of Trayvon, I’ve once thought against having children. I was afraid that this nation would deny their birthright of life without terror, without shame, and without injustice. 

I once believed the uprisings emerging after the death of George Floyd, and all the vows to fight for Black lives that followed, might lead to a world that adores you as much I do. 

Yet, I still witness white vigilantes honored, record numbers of police killings last year, and waning support for affirmations of Black life. I see a country with a different rhythm but the same blues.

Without children of my own, I give to you what has allowed our people to withstand long horrors, and the sustained denial of our humanity in our nation’s laws, customs, and economy.

I cannot protect you, but I can do something this world seems unable to do. I can love you. 

I can love you with the same force that has allowed our people to endure through the horrors of heartbreak. It is a force that refuses to resign your lives to shame, hopelessness, and inferiority. 

It is that force that kept Trayvon’s parents from collapsing from the weight of his death and instead fueled their fight against gun violence

It is that force, which courses through the veins of our own Black brothers, sisters, children, great-nieces and -nephews, that spurred enough of this country to rise up in love and indignation following Trayvon’s murder, and every other theft of Black life taken too soon. 

It is a force that allows us to cling to a future informed by all that has come before, and all that is now, so that we may create what has not been:

An entire world that loves you.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Marcus Harrison Green

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

📸 Featured Image: Trayvon Martin mural by Robert Trujillo attributed to Steve Rhodes under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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