Commentary: Aiming the Gun, Taking a Life (My thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case) by Janice B.
(BALTIMORE - March 25, 2012) - I used to keep a gun in my house. A revolver.
I knew how to use it even though I hoped I would never have to. Even if someone was breaking the door down I would hopefully be able to escape without having to shoot someone. But the fact of the matter is when you own a gun you have to also own the fact that you might be responsible for taking someone’s life. Some people think that sounds easy given the right circumstances. But most people who think it is easy, people who think that they could easily shoot someone who was trying to harm them or their child, for example, have most likely never even held a gun. They have no idea what the decision to point a gun and shoot someone brings with it. It should never be easy.
I am familiar with and have respect for guns because I grew up with them. My father was a DC police officer and later homicide detective. He also used to hunt for food. We had guns in the house. I knew where they were. I knew how to use them. My father instilled in me that guns are dangerous weapons and that thankfully he had never had to take someone’s life as a police officer. He said that a good police officer should go their entire career praying they never have to take someone’s life. And that it was a burden that no one should ever have to carry. But he also said that you never ever pick up a gun and aim it at someone, human or animal, unless you are ready to accept that burden. If the possible harm to you is greater than the burden of taking that life then you will have to live with that choice even if you feel justified in making it.
I’m talking about guns because I wonder what was going through the mind of George Zimmerman the night he chose to aim his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin. Like pretty much everyone I know, this case is weighing heavily on my heart these days. It seems the details of that evening keep changing as more witnesses emerge, so even as I type this there may be new developments. But going from what I know now I’m curious about the mental state of a grown man out in his car, carrying a gun, looking for “suspicious” people. I’m curious as to why a 17-year old child of any color walking down the street in his neighborhood would appear suspect. And like everyone else I wonder what in Zimmerman’s soul made him believe that he could go out that night with a gun, cruise the neighborhood, stalk this boy, antagonize him, and take his life? Who gave him that right? Did he understand the weight of that choice?
I know we are all outraged about the actions of the Sanford police department that night. Even if Zimmerman was being attacked and beaten when he decided to shoot that gun he should have still been detained for questioning until the facts emerged. “Stand your ground” law or not….basic common sense procedures were ignored. And given the fact that they KNEW he was following the boy. They KNEW he was going after Trayvon. It was clearly premeditated. If he had stayed in his car and reported the “suspect” this would have never happened. A child would not have been shot and killed. Black, white, asian, whatever. The police failed us. I know people are pointing to the racial aspects of this injustice making it a black vs. white issue. I don’t know if the police were racist and I’m not even sure that Zimmerman is white. But quite honestly I’m saddened that this is becoming a race issue. Because even though there could be a racist motive here, WE, as human beings need to be united in this.
This is about humanity. This is about valuing another’s life like you value your own. The truth is, Trayvon is my son. He’s my brother, my child, my friend, my coworker, my neighbor. How many times have I gone out in the rain or cold to get the mail wearing my husband’s hoodie pulled tightly around my face? You can’t tell my race or my gender. You can’t tell if I’m “on drugs” or planning to commit a crime. And what if my neighbor is not mentally stable and decides to shoot me because I appear suspicious? What if it’s my son as a teenager walking home from school? What if it was my producer MoRece who walked down Calvert Street in the rain wearing a hoodie just to come to my show at the Baltimore Book Fair to support me? Truth is it could be any of us. Yes Trayvon is OUR family.
But here’s the difficult part. Zimmerman is our family too. He’s someone’s child. We may be sickened by his actions and feel hatred in our hearts for what he did, but he is still a human being. Since his actions were handled improperly and he wasn’t detained by the police we don’t know yet what his story is. We don’t know if he is sick or what his state of mind is. But whether we like it or not he is one of us. He’s that person who clutches their purse closer when a group of young black men walk by. He’s those people who hate the Korean ladies in the nail shop because they just know they are talking about them. He’s just like that uncle who doesn’t trust white people or that cousin who says “there goes the neighborhood” when a black family moves in. He’s just like those of us who judge by the exterior or by the prejudice we have formed in our hearts instead of looking at each person as a unique individual. He’s those of us who still don’t see that we are all in this life together. There is no black or white or asian to that. We were created by the same force. We were put here for a reason. This is who we have become. And only WE can change it. I know this blog won’t change much. But this is so heavy on my heart that I felt the need to say something. I continue to see the racial division on social networks over the Trayvon case and others like it. I continue to see the black vs. white and “us vs. them” mindset and it makes me sad. For whatever it’s worth, I pray we can rise out of this together.
I no longer own a gun. Before we adopted my son in 2009 I removed it from my house and gave it back to my father. I know that while I AM able to shoot someone to protect myself or my family, I also know that as a mother I am NOT able to carry the burden of taking the life of another mother’s child. I’m a different person now. I know I don’t want to ever have to make that decision. I live with peace in my life and in my heart. My father taught me well.
As for my father, the retired police officer and former hunter…..he now feeds the deer from his back deck. He is 83 now. He has names for them and saves up old bread so that he and my son can feed them when we visit. He no longer hunts. He told me he doesn’t think he has it in him anymore. He has changed.
Me, too, Daddy. Me, too.
Love and light….
What do you think?
3 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
Although this was a good article, this became a race issue when the Sanford police began to cover the fact that Zimmerman had identified Trayvon as a black kid. It became a race issue because of prior incidents in the Sanford area, that the police have supported. I haven't heard any of us as a black people call each other f'ing coons. Sorry but this is a race thing! I too own several guns and I'm not willing to give one gun up. I am prepared to defend myself or my family members with deadly force if needed. The difference between Zimmerman and me is that I understand what must be met before using deadly force against another. I took the training I received seriously and now pass that training on to others. Zimmerman doesn't just have to bear the burden that he took another person's life. He has to bear the burden of senselessly taking another's life. I may be different from others having spent a career in the military, followed by working in the prison system, but I encourage everyone that if you take on buying a gun to get some training. It goes much further than feeling secure. May God bless both families. because both have been devastated. Just my 2 cents!!
Thanks to both Dena and Stanton for reading my blog and for your comments. Stanton I respect your view, my dad was military and police. I feel you. Yes it was a race issue for Zimmerman based on what we know of his comments and past record and the prior accounts in the area (which I wasn't aware of when I originally typed the blog). I'm saying it's deeper than that too. Being racist or prejudiced is a part of this case for sure...but the inhumanity is in my opinion even more appalling. You can be ignorant and racist but not murder another human being. He could have reported Trayvon as "suspicious" and let the police step in if necessary. Neighborhood Watch should just be watching. Maybe his assumptions about Trayvon were racist but his self proclaimed entitlement to take that teenager's life is the mindset that really scares me. My son isn't white and Trayvon could definitely be my child. I don't know what the answer is to stop these incidents. This mess is deep rooted. We gotta speak up and stand united though. It seems the only way to make any changes. I'm surely no expert on it! Just blogging because being silent isn't my style. I'm touched that Doni posted it! Thank you again for your comments.