Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, division and the change it can bring

In 1992, I had just bought my first new car. It was a candy apple red Nissan Sentra. I was so proud of it. I drove to my best friends house to show him. Vance looked at the car and smiled. "I could never drive a red car." Thinking he was going to make fun of it, I barked, "Why? What's wrong with it?" His smile got a little bigger. He paused for a moment and said "Man, I'd be stopped 5 times a day if I owned that car." I had no clue what he meant. "Why would you get stopped? What are you, a robber?" I joked. We laughed. His tone became a bit more serious. "Mike, I'm Black."

We were standing in his yard on Winter's Lane in Baltimore, now recognized as the Winter's Lane Historic District, which houses the oldest remaining African American Church in Catonsville, established in 1868. I knew he was black. I knew there was still racism. But surely he wouldn't be pulled over for driving a red car. At that time I had never even known the words 'racial profiling'. "My brother drove a red car. He was stopped all the time." Vance said. "The cops stopped your brother all the time because he's a black guy and he drove a red car?" There was a divide of understanding between us. I just couldn't believe that this would happen. Not in the 1990's. And Vance didn't understand that I couldn't believe it.

I lived a few miles away in Halethorpe where the sun shined and birds went tweet tweet tweet. Sure, we had our share of long haired white guys on drugs but it was a fairly peaceful neighborhood. Vance lived in a small home that looked out on Baltimore National Pike. The house was cramped and Vance didn't even have a private bedroom. But I was always welcomed by his family and his mother never failed to say hello and spend a few minutes talking with me. She even gave me a wedding gift and a bestowed a blessing on me before getting married in 1989. I'm sure she knew that anyone who was going to marry me needed all the help they could get.

It seemed I was with Vance quite often. Laughing, carrying on, talking about whatever. Race didn't usually come up. But there was division and a lack of knowledge, mostly on my part. A few months before his mother passed on, we were talking about her high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which were dangerously out of control. Vance explained that this was common among African Americans due mostly to diet. I just sat there, again befuddled.

I knew nothing about black people except what I saw and what I had been taught. But I always had tried to look at everyone as an individual, rather than, as a race. I didn't always succeed.

I am at once amazed and disgusted by the history of the United States. Slavery, freedom, attempted genocide, a beacon of light to the world, puritanical denial of our faults, all mixed together in a cauldron of confusion. Many of us cannot see the forest for the trees. We do as so many have done for thousands of years. We treat ourselves as superior and our life as fans of a sports team. We (I'm saying we, but of course I mean simply the "stereotypical" we) hear about a young man such as Trayvon Martin, who was killed and we immediately react. The walls go up. The lines are drawn. There are no witnesses but we all seem to know the facts. We all know the story. And the two minute sound bytes on the news strengthen our resolve. One side defends itself. 'Trayvon was trying to hurt that poor man.' And the other side shouts 'Zimmerman is a racist and a killer.' And look at that. There are black and white and all of the other human colors on both sides of the issue. Why? There are various reasons. But a few are brave enough to say "no one knows what happened except for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman." and refuse to lay blame. What all of us do know for sure is that a mother has lost her son. Just like Vance lost his mother and a few months later, I lost Vance. And the world has lost another child.

And Mr. Zimmerman? How free will he ever be? A tired, exhausted jury, which I would not have wanted to be a part, found him not guilty. So although there are not bars holding him prisoner, will his own conscience be his jailer? Will our opinions keep him incarcerated? His guilt? Or perhaps just the fact that a child lay dead at his hands will be enough to make him a convict to his own mind.

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King said "Hate cannot drive out hate, only Love can do that." Yes, another life has left us. But many of us know that his Light is forever and that his Energy will be spread to create positive change. Let us Be the change we want to see. Let us be really, truly Loving, in the face of that which we cannot understand. Let us realize now, in this moment, as we grieve for Trayvon, that we are One. Let us end this division. Let us come together and repeat the words of Benjamin Crump, (the Martin Family Lawyer) "In order for Trayvon to rest in peace, we must All be Peaceful." Let us hold hands, cry, hug, laugh, understand and let go of our judgmental shackles. And then we will release ourselves from our own prisons, to be free. To Be Free.

Michael A Miller