Saturday, September 8, 2012

Trayvon and Those Before and After Him

Not since Emmett Till has a murdered African-American son been catapulted to national attention. I was 5 when Emmett was killed. My sister-girlfriend and writer Valerie Wesley said that Trayvon Martin is to our daughters' generation what Emmett Till was to ours. My children were grown when I learned the Till story in depth, watching Keith Beauchamp's documentary. I was traumatized by the unspeakably deformed face of the child in the open casket his mother insisted upon. A beloved boy on a summer visit to relatives down South, beaten with the force of hate.

Trayvon. A murdered Black boy named in the nation's consciousness. He broke into a space reserved for missing blond haired children in Aruba, Colorado, and California. Trayvon from Sanford, Florida, and the grief of his parents, have been witnessed in ways that so many murdered Black and Latino sons and their parents have not. Months have gone by. Trayvon's name, still known,is no longer in the spotlight. Black and Latino males killed by the police and others since then have gone nameless in the national media, as before. An epidemic surpassing West Nile Virus.

This grief is ancient. I recall the scene in Why the Caged Bird Sings in which the women in Maya's family hurried to empty the potato bin so her uncle could hide from terrorists, Southern white men on a hunt for Black flesh. I recall the line in Lucille Clifton's Poem For De Lawd.  

"I come from a line of Black and going on women who got used to making it through murdered sons who grief kept on pushing who fried chicken ironed swept off the back steps who grief kept for their still alive sons for their sons coming their sons gone just pushing."  

Pressure has to be exerted to make the police less free to shoot our kids, or intrude at will on their bodies. The silent March this summer to protest the Stop and Frisk Policy of the New York City Police Department represented one such action. Many different community groups and individuals came together to demonstrate their objection, and it lit a flame of encouragement in me and others. The numbers of people that came out stretched for blocks down 5th Avenue.  The elders, some frail, who stepped down off buses provided by the NAACP to join in, and the young people in the crowd moved me in particular.

 Mothers and fathers of murdered sons in our communities need to know they are not alone. The Police Commissioners, the Mayors they serve have to know this as well. And we cannot be in denial that some of our murdered sons are at the hands of other youth of color who believe life is collateral for settling "beef." They too need our action.