Slowly, steadily, relentlessly, the news of Trayvon Martin’s killing has spread from Sanford, FL, to kitchen tables and sidewalks around the world. In less than a month, “the hoodie” has become the symbol of all that’s wrong with the “Stand Your Ground Act.”
“If I had a son,” said President Barrack Obama this morning, “he’d look like Trayvon.” Transparent code for what I would never have to tell my son: Please don’t wear a hoodie, don’t be outside after dark, keep your eyes down, do nothing that could be suspicious.”
Walking while black. Driving while black. Standing on a corner while black. Shopping at the mall while black. White people can have no idea what that means to black people, how it affects the foundation of one’s life and the raising of one’s child. We can try, we can listen and learn. We can be outraged. We cannot know.
What can we do? First, we can do the symbolic. At 3 p.m., Sunday, an ad hoc group offers us a somber, peaceful opportunity to respond publicly. The Hundred Hoodie March begins at Rockford City Hall, continues across the river and concludes at Founders Memorial. And, please, they ask, wear a hoodie.
The Rockford march is one of dozens spreading around the country. Follow Rockford’s on Facebook.
Second, we can learn and listen.
The Trayvon Martin killing comes in two parts: (1) the legal nightmare created by the National Rifle Association and state legislatures who support the Stand Your Ground Act; and, (2) the cultural collision created when fear, ignorance, anger, aggressiveness and hopelessness mix with centuries of racial stereotypes to bring us the tragedies of two families — Martin’s and George Zimmerman’s.
The 17-year-old high school student died in February when Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, tracked him, ignored the cautions of the police to stay in the car, and then pulled a gun and shot Martin dead.
Trayvon Martin looked suspicious, Zimmerman said in his 911 call. He fretted that these people always get away. There’s one place where Zimmerman may have said “F-word coons,” a classic racial epithet that eventually could undermine his claim of self-defense.
Zimmerman has not been charged because in Florida and 20 other states, the Stand Your Ground Act says you can defend yourself — with deadly force — if at any time, any where, for any reason, you think you are in imminent danger. You don’t have to prove it; you just need say it. Unless there’s evidence to the contrary, you’re free to go. Gang bangers love this Stand Your Ground Act.
There’s no Stand Your Ground Act in Illinois. We use the more common Castle Doctrine, a descendent of old English common law that says a “man’s house is is castle,” and he’s free to defend his dwelling with lethal force if he’s threatened. Some states with Castle Doctrine laws also include a vehicle and the workplace.
Let’s make sure the General Assembly has no intentions of inviting the NRA in for a confab on legislation promoting a Stand Your Ground Act for Illinois.
That’s the legal side. The cultural collision is tougher, less tractable. We’ve generations piled on generations of being fearful and suspicious of anyone who doesn’t look, act, talk and think like we do. That fear and suspicion cuts across all races and ethnicity. It is not simply white ignorance of black. It is black of white; Latino of black; the combinations are virtually unlimited.
I make three presumptions: I will never need to tell my son not to wear a hoodie. I oppose the Stand Your Ground Act. And, I know this stew of tragedies did not have to happen.