It was 8 yrs ago that you were tragically and violently taken away from us by a crazed, sadistic self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman-George Zimmerman. There was no rhyme or reason behind why your life was snuffed out that fateful day, Feb 26 2012. Your life has been celebrated and memorialized this past 8 yrs in a way that very few who've passed have been remembered. Your death struck a chord with so many of us that we are still reeling from the thought that your life was taken without any remorse or even the slightest apology from the known killer. Ironically, George Zimmerman still believes he was doing his community a service the night he accosted and confronted you without regard for your life or your well-being. He even went as far as to file a $100 Million lawsuit against your parents for essentially fabricating lies against him regarding your death. This iconic photo above is etched into the collective memories of all who saw this photo 8 yrs ago and it is a reminder to all of us of the life that was so tragically taken. We commemorate the anniversary of your death, because it is a constant reminder of the problem of police brutality that still exists in African American communities across the country. Your death reignited a social consciousness within the this community that is still thriving and resisting even until this day. The Black Lives Matter Movement was birthed in large part, because of the egregious "Stand Your Ground" legislation that became the justification for your murder and many others who died at the hands of those claiming to protect and serve. Legislation that seems to only be used when Black Lives are the victims of homicides that could've been avoided if only cooler heads had prevailed. In many ways the system failed you, we failed you, because even amidst our best efforts we couldn't ensure that the perpatrator of your murder did serve any prison time for your death. In fact, your death was used as a weapon against our own community, wielded at us in an overt and covert way to keep us in control.
We watched just 2 yrs after your untimely death, the death of a Black father - Eric Garner, who was strangled to death in front of millions of onlookers. New York Police Officers choked Mr. Garner to death on the street corner for allegedly selling lose cigarettes illegally. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. We watched as this group of burly white men went from calmly talking to this Black man to gang tackling and choking him to the point of asphyxiation. The last words he uttered on this earth was "I Can't Breathe," which symbolically and metaphorically became the rallying cry of people tired of as Dr. King once put it, "being trampled upon by the iron feet of oppression." Eric Garner's death seem so surreal, because even though it played out right in front of our very eyes and despite our ability to see it, we could do absolutely nothing to stop it. In this age of smartphones and social media; our greatest weapon against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, we are sadly only able to capture the video footage of his life being tragically taken hoping that somehow it will be useful to the prosecution if and when this unfortunate case is brought to trial. We later found out that even though the video footage unequivocally proves that Eric Garner was choked to death by the New York Police Officers in the video, because of what was also proven to be political and even racial motivations when the case did go to trial, all of his murderers did go free. However, the family of Eric Garner did receive a compensatory settlement for an undisclosed amount from the City of New York in their civil suit, which still does not bring the life of this beloved father back to his family.
And, then just two months following the death of Eric Garner, we experienced yet another tragic death of another Black life at the hands of another White police officer. 18 yr old Michael Brown Jr. was gunned down by a Ferguson Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson who claims that he was acting in self defense as he was attacked by Michael Brown while sitting in his patrol car. Darren Johnson fired 12 shots fatally killing this young black teenager. His lifeless body lie in the streets of Ferguson for hours like an animal, exposed to the elements and to the community as an indirect message of what happens to a young black teenager who has a run-in with the police. Riots broke out in the City of Ferguson as a sign of unrest in this Black community. People took to the streets to exorcise their pain and frustration with a police department that has a long history of racially motivated incidents. Michael Brown's death was the last straw for this community and they collectively said, "enough is enough!" Riots like these end up being a double-edge sword for communities like Ferguson; they are able to collectively express their frustrations and anger with this racist system, but unfortunately their anger and vitriol is taken out on their own communities. It's both destructive and therapeutic all at the same time. Consequently, when the dust settles it is the homes and businesses of the impacted communities that suffer at the hands of it's own people, and this is yet another unfortunate consequence of police brutality.
What followed the deaths of these Black men were the deaths of other Black men and women who were victims of this growing epidemic of police brutality. We have literally watched as life after life has been taken and the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime for both the victim and most importantly the criminal. Very few police serve any real jail time for claiming to be defending themselves against violent and primarily unarmed black people. According to a NewsOne article published Feb 16th of this year entitled, "75 Black Men and Boys Killed by Police"
Police shooting and kiling Black males is all but a centuries-old American tradition among law enforcement in the U.S. But the fact that this apparent rite of police passage is still thriving in 2020 and only seems to be gaining momentum and not slowing should give any American citizen pause as an increasing number of Black people — especially males both young and old — continue to be added to a growing list of victims with what seems like a new shooting every week.
And in another article published by The Atlantic, "In One Year, 57,375 Years Were Lost to Police Violence."
People killed by police in 2015 and 2016 had a median age of 35, and they still had an average of about 50 years left to live when they died. It’s this metric—the gap between how long someone lives and how long they were expected to live—that’s the focus of a new study by Anthony Bui, Matthew Coates, and Ellicott Matthay in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health...Of the 1,146 and 1,092 victims of police violence in 2015 and 2016, respectively, the authors found 52 percent were white, 26 percent were black, and 17 percent were Hispanic. Together, these individuals lost 57,375 years to police violence in 2015 and 54,754 to police violence in 2016. Young people and people of color were disproportionately affected: 52 percent of all the years of life lost were lost by nonwhite, non-Hispanic ethnic groups. Whites also tended to be killed by police at older ages than African Americans and Hispanics—though this is partly because in the general population, whites are older on average than the other groups.
And in yet another article entitled, "How Police Killings of Black People Hasn't Let Up Since Ferguson, In 5 Charts." "Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, five years ago. Since then, U.S. police have killed more than 5,000 people." These are the unfortunate causalities that followed your tragic death some 8 yrs ago. When you examine the many stories surrounding the deaths of all of these Black men and women, you see everything from a young black boy being shot, because he was carrying a toy gun, to a young black men eating ice cream alone in his own apartment, both very innocent moments in their lives taking completely out of context and have now become apart of a running list of Do's and Don'ts for Black people as we try to navigate our way in a society that doesn't seem to care about our well-being. Driving While Black, Sleeping While Black, Walking While Black, Playing While Black and essentially Living While Black, are the imposed constructs of this corrupt criminal justice system that our community is forced to deal with.
Attorney's like Benjamin Crump; who famously prosecuted your case against George Zimmerman, along with many other Black victims of police brutality. A man who has been prosecuting these types of cases for many many years. In fact, prosecuting so many of these types of cases led him to write a book entitled "Open Season; Legalized Genocide of Colored People" A book that discusses how "the law itself is used to kill people in and outside of the courtroom." According to an excerpt from "Open Season"
"Interestingly, three-fourths of the district judges said that the prosecutor was the most influential participant in the sentencing process, and about 40 percent said that prosecutors often failed to fully share all facts related to the case and to sentencing.[i] Even when judges recognized that defendants may have been unfairly treated or disparately impacted earlier in the process, these judges considered sentencing to be independent of earlier stages."
We saw this happen in many of the cases of the victims of police brutality, and it became a very disheartening reality to face; to know that the persons responsible for these tragic deaths would not be held accountable. In fact, in many cases the only punishment they would receive would be a brief suspension with or without pay for the extent of the investigation and a public smearing of their name and credibility in the media. We watched as the Ferguson prosecutor limped into the courtroom to announced that 1st Degree Murder charges would not be filed in the death of Michael Brown. And, I remember thinking to myself as Black people waited and watched this prosecutor announce his crooked intentions, that his physical handicap almost became a symbolic metaphor for the corrupt Criminal Justice system that exonerates the crooked White police and justifies the senseless deaths of the Black victims. So far, Amy Guyger is the only police officer that has been sentenced to considerable prison time for the killing of Botham Shem Jean; a Black young men that was sitting alone in his apartment enjoying some ice cream, when Office Guyger claims to have mistakenly entered the wrong apartment and killed this young man in cold blood.
Speaking of Criminal Justice, 65 years ago a 14 yr old black boy named Emmit Till was brutally murdered for whistling at a young white women in Mississippi. He was beaten, and tortured and murdered by two white men, tied to a cotton gin and his lifeless body thrown into the river. When he was discovered his body was bloated and badly decomposed. His mother Mamie Till Mobley refused to have a quick burial of her son, but wanted to have an open casket so that the world could see the tragic fate that had befallen her son. 65 years later, Feb 26th the U.S. House of Representatives voted almost unanimously to pass the Anti-Lynching Bill; and essentially making lynching a Federal Crime. Imagine that! Look how far we've come and yet, look how far we still have to go. Trayvon, you're probably wondering why I wrote this letter on the 8th anniversary of your death. I find it both ironic and necessary that we would memorialize your death instead of your birth, because in doing so we continue to bring attention to and shed light on this growing problem of police brutality. Your death will not be in vain, but we will use it as a way to continue to pursue justice for young black boys and girls like you.
Filmmakers like Award Winning Director Ava Duvernay tells the story of 5 young black boys wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Central Park New York. They are now known as the "Exonerated Five" but they were widely known as the Central Park Five; who were Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and 16-year-old Korey Wise. All went to prison for a crime that didn't commit, serving more than a decade in prison, experiencing some very brutal and unspeakable horrors as young black boys in an adult institution. "When They See Us" is a Netflix docuseries of the lives of these innocent black young men. I was so moved by seeing this docuseries that I had to talk about it on my radio podcast. In fact, I did a two part series called "Black & Blue; When They See Us" the Conversation featuring Atty Boyd Wihte. And, we talked about it again during another podcast series we called "Hands UP Don't Shoot" featuring Professor Jennifer Cobbina. She wrote a powerful and insightful book on the problem of police brutality in Black America, and how significant and important it is to be addressed. Your death has definitely sparked a national conversation about this growing problem. Panel discussions, and forums have been held around the country. Black athletes like Colin Kapernick, Ed Reed, Lebron James, and many others have spoken out about the problem and some have even sacrificed their careers for the sake of seeing this problem totally eradicated in the Black community. It has caused black parents to have some very contstructive and important conversations with their black boys and girls about how they should conduct themselves when being stopped by the police. Addressing the painful reality of being gulity until proven innocent in the eyes of the ones who are duty bound to protect and serve. Ironically, they are also the ones that are still given the benefit of the doubt and afforded the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty.
Since your death 8 yrs ago, a lot has changed, yes there have been more black deaths at the hands of the police, but there also has been an awareness, and a consciousness that has ben raised in light of all that has happened. We have definitely come along ways, but we certainly have a long ways to go when it comes to erradicting this problem of police brutality. So, today as we remember your death, we also celebrate your life, and the legacy that you unwittingly, and unknowingly left behind. You put us on a trajectory and a path that I believe will lead us to the solution. A path that will eventually take us to what Dr. King referred to as "better days ahead." We just got to keep fighting, keep marching, keep struggling, keep believing, keep hoping and most importanly keep moving!
Forever Committed To The Cause,