“You’re shaking!” … “Why are you breathing hard?” … “Somebody said you had a gun” … “Somebody said there was a robbery!” … “He tried to grab my gun!”
The shooting death of 17 year old 140 lb. Trayvon Martin, 100 pounds lighter than his 28 year-old stalking murderer, who claims “self defense”, has torn open a lot of angry, familiar wounds in people.
Walking to the corner store is one of life’s best things. Phone records show Trayvon and his girlfriend talking over 400 minutes that day. They were on the phone again as he headed home with his Skittles and ice tea. That’s some puppy love; stories are written in small details.
Trayvon’s body and his life were his, not Zimmerman’s. He’s now decomposing in the cold dirt. His girlfriend will never feel him close again; his mama will never hold him or let him have it when he gets out of line. The only smile he’ll ever make will be the permanent lifeless one as flesh peels from skull and people gradually move on.
Though violence is surprisingly decreasing worldwide, many still consume, control, hurt, and destroy.
As confusingly mixed and bright as I am, I have been stalked, hunted and harassed in one way or another for my entire life. I have known a world of endless zombies unquenchably needing to hunt down and consume. Without missing a beat, I went from being a pretty boy stalked by old men who wanted to do God knows what to me to being seen as a ‘criminal’ when I walked places. As I made this transition, I started noticing this expectation of me. I began to inhabit how others saw me, which later aided my actual criminalization.
I am trying not to live in anger anymore. I’ve known its ugly ravages.
NEWS FLASH: Some people in the United States walk. Not everybody needs or wants to drive to every single destination everyday for the rest of our lives, imprisoned in the endless roar of machines and putrefaction of our ever-cramping guts.
Some also just like to get outside, subconsciously placing themselves in calming motion between where God and Earth meet.
I am no saint. I was a drug dealer for nearly 5 years; a lifetime in that biz. I was so angry my only moral equivocation was All’s fair in hate and war.
Even though I’m a vegan now and work non-stop to protect the Earth and our children’s health and future, and to bring people together from all colors, cultures, and communities, I’m still bothered, still assumed a criminal. I’ve never worried about so-called “thugs”. It’s been cops, sheriff’s deputies and out West armed cattlemen who make inner-city murder rows feel like safe zones.
I’ve learned to see before being seen. A rural or suburban road is most dangerous. If crossing a city park at night when cops appear in the distance and I’m wearing a white shirt, I’ll take it off and walk in the shadows of light poles and trees, or even lay face flat on the ground if I see them driving, scanning. I’ve been stopped for murder, simply walking home from the corner store in Denver, a purchased gallon jug of spring water in my backpack. In Dayton, catching the second leg of a flight back to Texas after speaking at MIT, dress suit in checked luggage, I was suddenly rushed by 3 plain clothes red-faced men, even though I was already inside the secure air transport system. The situation nearly was out of control, because they began freaking out because I began breathing harder.
NEWS FLASH: When somebody suddenly rushes you, the male body reacts with endorphins and natural male defenses that need either a “fight or flight” response, yet we must choke it down because the situation is escalating worse. Added to pre-conceived conceptions, your body’s struggle to handle the adrenalized unfairness is further misread.
TIPS for men of color: Protect yourself by gathering information discreetly. Don’t turn your head to look behind you or to either side. That looks suspicious. Use peripherals, and learn to use your ears as a second pair of eyes.
When you have to look, casually rub your face and look through your fingers. If you need to look behind, bend over to fix your shoe and glance between your legs. Don’t use any jerky movements.
When walking, even if you’re just clearing your head, always LOOK PURPOSEFUL and focused. Walk with a steady, non-lingering gait! Look like you have places to go. You’re busy.
TIPS for people assuming most men of color are suspicious: Try to look at the individual, not the stereotype. Learn discernment. A person’s actions and body language will most of the time tell you about them and their intent. Somebody hasn’t tried to rob me for over 20 years and that was crazy early 90s NYC and only because I had the intellectual New York Times under my arm and the Times used to lessen your street cred. (I swear that NY Times will get you killed, son!) I’d stopped to make a payphone call on a rainy night in Brooklyn. This fool had so much trouble getting his gun out his pants that I could’ve grabbed it and popped him with his own gun. But I just took off.
TIPS for people struggling with grief and rage over unfairness:
Acknowledging the world is still a war zone doesn’t mean having to accept it. My face has been in the fire of social and ecological struggle for so long; I’m learning to manage my feelings. If we want healing, we can learn a third way beyond “fight” or “flight”, and that is to tend.
Many people dream of planting a garden of our future that is more healthful and just, but few take time to learn how to tend to feelings, working overtime to convert helpless rage, despair, sadness and other emotions into positive action that produces better communications and relationships with each other (and ourselves, as well as the planet we live on, I might add).
Maybe we can all be a little more aware of each other. The other day I was at Whole Foods here in Houston and went to the seating area to mix my Emergen-C with water. The cop standing on the other side of the table was following me with his eyes. Pretending obliviousness, I walked to the farthest end. Still, he spoke: “What you making there?” he asked. I forced myself to look up. “It looks like you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
He was just being normal cool. Though he was black, all I had seen was the blue suit and elemental danger.
Walking out, as evening darkened, I decided to walk around the block. Helps a long-ago injured hip, and Houston’s beautiful weather is almost always intoxicating. Turning the corner, I saw a woman coming toward me with one of those little poof dogs. As soon as she saw me, she veered far down the drive of a business building like that’s where she was headed. I kept walking. Discreetly glanced behind. She was now veering back onto the sidewalk, having successfully avoided me.