Thank you to Crystal Belle and the organizers of the Trayvon Martin Effect Conference at Teachers College for this weekend’s events and for inviting me to attend!
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?
—Audre Lorde, Sister Ousider, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action
The stories that I am telling here all began with the image that you see above of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Emmett Till. When I pieced the images together, all I could hear in my head were the words of Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth from their 1992 album featuring T.R.O.Y./They Reminisce Over You, dedicated to their friend Troy Dixon. It’s the end of the first verse and C.L. Smooth’s last two bars that propels the stories that hits what I think is at stake when we let everyone know that we refuse to forget Trayvon or Jordan or Emmett or any black boy:
Déjà vu, Tell You What I’m Gonna Do
When They Reminisce Over You, My God!
It is the way that CL Smooth hits that last bar, the way he uses sound of his voice to achieve the emphasis he wants to make. He is making a promise to the world that the weight and impact of this death, via the reminiscence, will be felt for generations to come… because you see, for me, that weight and that re-remembering is exactly what I think schools quite actively and deliberately keep us from doing.
Both Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin would have turned 19 years old this month. That these two births are how I will always remember February is very telling for what Black Histories and Black Todays mean.
The verdict against Michael Dunn, the white man who murdered Jordan Davis for playing music too loud, does not ring with justice for me. My heart was lifted when I saw and heard Jordan Davis’s parents respond to the verdict and the sense of closure they now feel; I want to make sure that I don’t dismiss or disrespect what these parents are feeling right now. At the end of the day, however, no matter how long Michael Dunn stays in jail, the right of a while male to kill black boys was upheld in the courts all over again.
Let’s be clear here: the jury found Dunn guilty of four charges, including three of attempted second-degree murder (the shots he fired and missed). But they couldn’t reach a verdict on the actual first-degree murder of Jordan. I don’t know how to understand such confusion. This verdict, along with Zimmerman’s acquittal, makes me read American justice like this: if you try to shoot black boys and miss, you will be incarcerated; but if you aim at a black boy and kill him good, you go free because you will have defended yourself successfully.
I can’t help but think back to how confused so many people were by the 2012 creation of one of my favorite cartoonists, Lalo Alcaraz, after Trayvon’s murder. In the cartoon, a black mother fears for the life of her son even though he is simply going out for snacks. If anyone thought that was extreme, I encourage them to simply remember that Trayvon and Jordan should have been celebrating their 19th birthdays this month. American white supremacy has ensured that never happened.