“If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon,” a somber President Barack Obama said Friday, in his first public comments about the shooting death last month of unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17, in an Orlando suburb.
With those nine words, the nation’s first black president projected the honor roll student as a member of his family.
He claimed him.
And, based on that claim, he called for all Americans to do some soul searching and to give the matter the seriousness it deserves.
Obama’s comments stood in stark contrast with those of Geraldo Rivera, who placed the responsibility for the death not on George Zimmerman, who remains at large a month after the murder, but rather on Martin’s choice of dress: a hoodie.
They also are an indication of how the magnitude of the case has grown.
Huffington Post commentator Mari Fagel, among others, has highlighted the role Martin’s family’s use of social media has played in helping to spread the word:
When I first heard the name Trayvon Martin, it was not on a news site or on television. It was on Facebook. And last night, walking up 6th Avenue with a sea of people in the Million Hoodie March, the name Trayvon Martin could be heard for blocks and blocks. Hundreds of people marched in their hoodies, chanting “We are Trayvon Martin” and holding signs calling for justice and for George Zimmerman to be arrested. Everyone was united, fighting for one cause, all because news of Martin’s death went viral and people felt compelled to take action.
Indeed, people have converged on major cities around the country to show support for Martin’s family, demand justice for Zimmerman and push for the removal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
This may prove harder than it might initially seem, according to Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times:
Stand Your Ground laws do away with the longstanding legal concept that there’s a “duty to retreat” – that the sane and sensible thing to do when confronted with a “suspicious” situation is to get the heck out of there. In Florida and a number of other states, if running for safety is an option you don’t have to take it. You can meet perceived danger with deadly force; and if you end up making a dodgy situation worse, you can fire your gun and claim self-defense. Then it’s up to the prosecution to disprove that claim.
Obama’s election, according to some, heralded the inauguration of a “post-racial” society.
This shooting is only the latest piece of evidence-last week the bumper sticker “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012” topped the list-that this is not so.
Indeed, as friend and Dominion of New York founder Kelly Virella pointed out when we worked together, every day of Obama’s presidency has brought to the surface the racial tensions that lurk so little beneath the surface of the country.
Yet many seem to share the perspective of this commenter on an article about Obama’s statement today that he is fomenting racial division (The bold emphasis is mine):
Why is this so called President getting involved in an ongoing investigation of a bungled unfortunate incident? Jesus, why does B. Hussein Obama needs to stoke race riots? He and we don’t know what happened? Was Trayvon completely innocent? Was rent a cop blood thirsty? Jesus, people in this country will believe anything the media reports? All media have agendas. People do some thinking for yourself!!!
To me, one of the more hopeful signs out of this has been the role young people have played in calling for change and speaking out on this issue.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that students from Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and other local schools, will rally on the steps of the Capitol at 5:30 p.m. Monday to protest the shooting death of the Florida teen and to call attention to a law that some say has allowed Martin’s shooter to remain free. Georgia has its own version, known as the “Stand Your Ground” law, the paper said.
In so doing, these young people are joining a line of protest that in the 1960s saw them play a critical role in the triumphs of the modern civil rights movement.
The indomitable Ella Baker was a key figure for many of those young people, encouraging them to start their own organization and to resist incorporation in the older, more established, more clergy-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“Ella’s Song,” written to honor Baker, is one of my favorite of the group’s songs.
Taken from Baker’s words, it talks about the need for ceaseless struggle until full equality is reached.
As the president did today, Baker defined that equality by the standard of family.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes,” she said. “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”
Read the lyrics.
Hear the song.
Decide for yourself what you must do.
And do it.