COLUMN: Trayvon Martin and why you should care

Joanna Williams

A few weeks ago, I went to Walmart with a friend to pick up a new cell phone ordered. If I had the phone shipped to the store, I would receive free shipping as opposed to paying $11 to get it sent to my dorm. Being the cheap person I am, I decided to have it sent to the store. The phone came in a huge box, which the store worker said I had to keep with me to leave the store.

My friend and I were talking as we walked out of the first of two doors when an older white lady stopped me before we could leave the store. She was the “receipt police,” as they say. She told me the alarm had gone off when I walked through the door and she needed to see my receipt. I looked around and said I didn’t hear an alarm go off, but she said she needed to see my receipt. After showing it to her, she said that she needed to get it “marked off” and went away to make sure the receipt was legitimate. After she found out the receipt was OK, she let me go. I didn’t know how to describe my feelings of being racially profiled because I had a box with me as I left a store, but I know stories like this one are far too common.

I bring this story up because it is just a small one in the book of where race and those who believe they are above a race meet. Last month in Florida, George Zimmerman killed 17-year old Trayvon Martin as he was walking back from the store. Zimmerman is a man who dubbed himself “the neighborhood watch captain.” Martin was shot to death, and Zimmerman was arrested only to be released a few hours later. He claimed self-defense, although he was following Martin in a car, and the only thing Martin had on him was Skittles and tea.

I’ve written about race in this column before and proposed that one of the ways we could prevent detrimental stereotypes is to have a conversation and learn about people whose backgrounds come from my own. But for this one, I’m not sure what to propose, or even if this column can come to a cushy conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that Martin is one of many black people who have been murdered, incarcerated and pulled over by those who think black people are below them, and nothing has been able to stop it. And that makes me really angry.

It makes me angry that if the roles were reversed, Martin would still be locked up and probably facing life in prison.

It makes me angry that it took nearly a month before major news outlets picked up this story.

It makes me angry that I can still bring this up in conversation and no one knows who he is or what I am talking about.

And it infuriates me that people don’t understand, or refuse to understand, that Martin was killed because he was black and for that reason alone. For any white person who doesn’t know, allow for me to say that nothing has changed. Racism has simply become more covert, and it always takes a tragedy to open the eyes of the struggles of many.

Look at Sean Bell, who was shot the morning before his wedding in 2006, or Troy Davis, who was executed last year with many believing there wasn’t sufficient evidence, or Emmett Till, whose 1955 murder could have easily happened in 2012.

And if you choose to ignore this or think you’re not the reason for this, you are part of the problem. You may be reading this thinking, “How does the murder of a black kid in Florida affect you?” Or you may be thinking this isn’t directed toward you because you’re not racist. Or maybe you simply don’t care because it all makes you feel uncomfortable.

But the truth is that tragedies like this transcend your own personal uncomfortableness. Martin was killed because he was black, but for murders like this to stop, we must realize we all share a common humanity, and because of this, we can’t continue to let this happen.

Will Martin be the last innocent black person killed just because of his skin color? As much as it hurts, the answer is no. But Martin’s mother said, “Our son is your son.” That means we have a duty to stop things like this from continuing to happen.