The Trayvon Martin case hits home for me for many reasons, not just because I too am an African American, but because the small city this happened in, Sanford, Florida is a suburb of Orlando, the city I live in. As a matter of fact, one of the schools I was offered to transfer to is located in Sanford.
Another reason it hits home for me is because as an African American male I have faced racial profiling many times in my life, especially when I was a teenager.
When I was a young teen it was very common for me to be followed around in stores and I can remember at least twice when I was actually stopped and confronted by a store worker for “stealing” although I wasn’t. My friends and I used to have a joke that once we entered a store they would have a special code they would say over the intercom to alert them that black people were in the store.
When I was young I thought it was a necessary hassle, sometimes I even thought it was funny because the store clerks would try not to be obvious, but they were always obvious to me. I was, even at a young age always aware however that I was seen a a criminal and “guilty” even though I had committed no crimes.
As an older teen things got worse, but still, being a teenager I didn’t take it personal and even thought it was funny at times.
Driving my mother’s car, on a weekly basis I would get pulled over, sometimes searched, but always inconvenienced for absolutely no reason.
I remember my friends and I would go to Dennys and sometimes be there for an hour or longer before we were ever even asked what we wanted to order. At the time I didn’t think anything of it other than bad service, but when I got older, I learned about the discriminatory practices Dennys used in some locations to deter African American customers and have no doubt that is what was going on then, we just didn’t know it.
Being harassed by the police was so common that I started to feel like a criminal whenever I saw one, expecting them to stop and search me for no reason which sometimes they did.
In particularly I remember an incident in which I went to visit with some friends in a gated community and decided to take a walk around the block. Well I didn’t even get half way around the block before I was approached by security and asked what was I doing there. He stated that someone had called about a suspicious person in the neighborhood. I couldn’t help, but to think that the only thing that truly made me suspicious was my skin color, because unlike Trayvon Martin I wasn’t wearing a hoodie and it was daylight out.
The Trayvon Martin case hits so close to home because I, like millions of other black and brown men around our country can identify with his situation. I don’t want to go into detail here because I don’t know all the details, but what I do know is what we know from Mr. Zimmerman himself.
He saw Trayvon Martin and for whatever reason thought that he was up to no good. We know that Trayvon was doing nothing wrong, yet he was viewed as a criminal and guilty automatically, much like I have been multiple times in my life.
For this reason, I will write a bigger, more in-depth article behind some of the psychological reasons I believe this tragic incident happened.
As a young African American male, I took the harassment by store clerks and law enforcement as a necessary price I had to pay for being young and black. I didn’t take it personal, but as I got older and became a college educated adult with a professional job, on the rare occasions I felt harassed because of my skin color, I no longer found it funny or necessary, but extremely irritating and degrading.
About two years ago on my way to work, dressed in a shirt and tie I got pulled over by a police officer. I actually knew he was going to pull me over before he did it because it was just him and me on the road. I didn’t mind the stop because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong and after checking my license and verifying I had no warrants, instead of letting me go he asked me if I had any guns and drugs in the car and if I minded if he searched it.
I was shocked, largely because I had assumed that this type of harassment would stop when I got older and certainly once I went to college and became a professional, but it didn’t, it just became less frequent.
About four months ago I was pulled over by an undercover truck with four police officers, asking me again if I had drugs and guns. It was only when one of the officers recognized me that they eased up and immediately let me go. It was dark and if I had mistakenly took this undercover stop as a carjacking (which I initially was afraid it was) it could have ended tragically for me.
Just yesterday on Facebook, a friend of mine and a successful store manager wrote jokingly, “The first time not getting pulled over for being black I get 2 tickets. I think I prefer them holding me at gunpoint and searching for guns and drugs, it’s cheaper.”
The Trayvon Martin case resonates with me because it could have easily been me or one day, my son.
I think this unfortunate situation has a lot to teach us not just about race relations, but about the way we receive and perceive information through our minds based on preconceived notions which we will explore in my next post.