Ifill’s Op Ed on Standing with Trayvon’s Mother for Justice

My colleague Sherrilyn Ifill has a moving and important opinion piece for CNN on the murder of Trayvon Martin and his mother’s call for justice.  Here is her piece:

The hardest part of listening to Trayvon Martin’s mother speak about her son’s death is hearing the tone of her voice. It bears a heaviness that speaks not just of grief but of resignation.
Sybrina Fulton is living the nightmare that every black mother carries in the back of her mind every day. Her son has been senselessly killed by someone who didn’t see her son — a normal American teenager — but saw just a black boy and felt threatened. The police know the killer but have not arrested him.
All of the known facts support the likelihood that Martin was pursued and killed by a zealous neighborhood watch captain. But Martin is black, his assailant, George Zimmerman, is white (Hispanic), and the events took place in Florida, which has a strong self-defense law. So rather than quietly grieve, comforted by the assurance that this terrible wrong will be forcefully addressed, Fulton must do what many black mothers have had to do for decades. She must lead the charge to bring the killer to justice. She must hire a lawyer, although her son broke no law. She must appear at rallies and on the radio to keep public pressure on local police who have refused to arrest Zimmerman.

In the early 20th century, the consequences for the kind of relentless determination displayed by Fulton could be deadly. Of the several dozen black women who were lynched in our nation’s history, most were killed in retaliation for demanding the arrest of those who murdered their sons or husbands.
We’ve come a long way since those days. But Fulton still feels the pain of having to defend the honor of her son and justify the significance of his life.

She does not say this. But in her voice we hear the sound of a burden decades old and almost too heavy to bear. In a way, she is walking the rugged path forged so courageously and publicly by Mamie Mae Till more than 50 years ago, who never rested in her search for justice for her slain son, Emmitt.
The fear of Fulton’s terrible journey is what motivates so many black mothers to harangue their sons with demands that they call home when they’re out, that they take a friend with them and that they watch their backs. We imagine what could happen and try to do our best to keep the nightmare at bay. Our hearts break when we hear the recount of Martin’s call to a friend in the minutes before he was killed. He knew Zimmerman was following him. His fear was mixed with a young man’s pride: “I’m not gonna run.”
Yes, we know about those parents who don’t parent, who let their children run wild without supervision. But we also know the truth. And the truth is that most black mothers parent with determination, authority and fear. Especially those mothers who have sons.
The teenage rites of passage that thrill our white counterpoints send fear down a black mother’s spine. When your child is old enough to walk to a friend’s house in the neighborhood, it can mean the first of many stop-and-frisk encounters with the police. When they turn 18, they can now be arrested and charged as an adult for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A new driver’s license and car opens the door to driving-while-black stops. Just having a flat tire in the road can end with a senseless murder, like the death of Camille and Bill Cosby’s son Ennis on the Los Angeles freeway in 1997.
Without question, white mothers lose their sons to murder too, and black mothers who lose their sons and daughters to murder do so more often at the hands of other black men or boys. There is no comfort for any of these mothers; there is just the hope of justice. But when a white neighborhood watch captain with a record of run-ins with the law follows, shoots and kills a black unarmed teenager and no arrest is made, even the cold comfort of justice is denied.
There are too many weeping, grieving mothers in our gun-soaked, violent nation. All that Sybrina Fulton asks for are answers and justice. Every mother of every race should stand with her.

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15 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    Like essentially every online account of this event coming from an opponent of the law, I notice the complete omission of any aspect of the altercation which might make the case a bit more ambiguous. You know, like a witness moments prior to the shooting seeing Zimmerman on the ground, with Martin on top of him beating him up? And Zimmerman having both wounds and grass stains consistent with this account?

    Zimmerman does not come off well in any account of this event, but that’s no excuse to make him look even worse by systematic omission.

  2. Brett. I have not seen any account by a witness of this–and I read all sorts of websites. Could you provide a link? And Zimmerman was much bigger than Martin, a kid. How did martin get Z on the ground? Maybe Martin was the one with the stand your ground defense…

  3. Thanks, John. crediring the witness identified by FOX, what we have is Z, after having been told to stay in his car, leaves and encounters Martin–a smaller and younger man. The scenario is easy to unfold: Z and M grapple; somehow M gets the upper hand, and Z shoots and kills. Can anyone explain to me that this very favorable scenario to Z falls w/in the FL law?

  4. Brett Bellmore says:

    I don’t think it DOES fall within the parameters of the Florida law, and neither does the author of that law. But a good case doesn’t require systematic omission of details. And the case being made here isn’t against Zimmerman, it’s against the law.

  5. I disagree. if Z sought a confrontation with M–as the facts seem to indicate–then I do not see how the law protects him. The law says you do not have to retreat–it does not say that you can confront and when resisted use deadly force. That is what the sponsors of the ludicrous FL law seem to agree on.

  6. Andrea Saren says:

    We really don’t know what happened. Did Zimmerman follow Martin a few steps and then head back to the car and did Martin jump him as he headed back to the car? Not an impossible scenario. Might still be illegal for Zimmerman to fire his gun; I don’t know.

    The scenario the media is telling us is that it was a cold-blooded killing by Zimmerman, just got out his gun and shot Martin. Is that more plausible?

    In any event, bizarre for Obama to comment on this. There are literally hundreds of homicides every week in the USA. And what did Obama mean that if he had a son, his son would look like Trayvon Martin? Does Obama think all black people look alike?

  7. Socratic Skeptic says:

    This could be another Duke lacrosse case. Why don’t we wait until the facts are established in a courtroom before forming opinions?

  8. CharlesWT says:

    “…on the murder of Trayvon Martin…”

    Shouldn’t that be killing or alleged murder?

  9. AYY says:

    Billl, 1:11 and 2:25
    No, Zimmerman was not bigger than Martin. Martin was 6 ft. 2 or 3 in., and he played football. Zimmerman is 5’9″

  10. Ziman says:

    “He played football.”

    LOL, I am sure Zimmerman played football at some point in his life also.

  11. @Andrea. I believe Obama was saying that any black male teen-ager is at risk of beong accosted by a vigilante and shot

  12. Andrea Saren says:

    I think Obama was saying that all black people look alike. What else could he mean — if he had a son, his son would look just like Trayvon Martin.

    All around weird and wrong for Obama to comment on this. There are over 30 gun homicides every day in the US.

  13. Veracitor says:

    Too bad for the grieving mother it wasn’t a senseless killing: as of today (3/27) we have learned that (a) Martin attacked Zimmerman and attempted to murder him by bashing his head against the pavement and (b) Zimmerman could not “retreat” regardless of any legal-duty questions because he was on his back on the ground with Martin on top of him, so (c) Martin’s shooting was justified and pro-social. Also, contrary to misleading “he was a little angel” stuff in the media, Martin was a young gold-tooth thug who abused drugs, attacked other people, and was almost certainly a burglar.

  14. Gino says:

    The Florida shooting is a tragedy for all. If any party should be criticized, it should be the state of Florida for encouraging poorly trained yahoos to purchase and carry concealed weapons.

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