An Open Letter to Trayvon Martin
By Jaylin Paschal
I was fourteen when you were murdered. Fifteen when he got away with it. Sixteen when I knew what that meant. I turn eighteen next month. I am officially older than you will ever be, yet none the more safe. Just as black.
When I was fourteen, I wanted nothing more than to have been there to tell you to stay in and save your $2 that night. I wanted to tell you that Skittles gave you cavities or that Arizona was a long way from home or that black boys, black hoodies, and black skies was a dangerous combination. Part of me thought that you should have known better than to have been out after the street lights had come on; that you should have known that your melanin rendered you criminal; that you should have known you could not be both black and safe all alone that night. I felt a deep, sharp pain. One that at fourteen, I hadn't known before. It hollowed out some of the innocence inside of me. It was the first time racism registered in my mind that didn't involve 1950's protest scenes or schematic diagrams of slaveships. When I was fourteen, I was changed forever.
When I was fifteen, George Zimmerman walked. All I remember feeling was deep sorrow. God, I was so sorry. All you had done wrong was be black, and I didn't think that was punishable by death--not in 2012, anyways--and I was sorry for being so mistaken. I was sorry for not fully understanding your condition; for not knowing better the world in which you lived, the reality that you faced. I was sorry your system failed you. I was sorry for thinking it was your system. I was sorry for assuming "innocent until proven guilty" applied to you. I was sorry that Zimmerman was proven guilty and was still innocent. I was sorry your jury was white women. I was sorry that you were somehow the one on trial. I was sorry you had taken those photos with pot--sorry they tried to smear your name--sorry it worked. I was sorry America had spent so much time trying to make sense of a senseless murder. I was sorry for your family. I was sorry for a mother who had lost her son. I was sorry my future son. I was sorry for myself. I was sorry we were black. I was sorry for us, for all of us. And most of all, I was sorry there was nothing I could do but cry and be sorry.
And at sixteen, I understood all of that sorrow. The deep, sharp pain had settled into a far more concerning ache. I had familiarized myself with that space that Zimmerman hollowed out. That space and I developed a serious relationship--well acquainted, but not friendly. We coexisted with the understanding that reality rendered us inseparable. To this day, that space and I manage your death as best we can.
I am eighteen, older than you will ever be, and I still think of you. When my boyfriend walks home from work. When my little cousin goes out with his friends at night. When they take a little longer to get back, or forget to check in, or don't let me know that they've made it home safely.
I'm sorry, Trayvon. I don't mean to martyr you. I know you did not put your life on the line, or calculate risks, or die for a cause. I know this was senseless. I know this was meant to be a routine convenience store trip. I know you never got to enjoy your Skittles. I know my sadness means nothing in terms of your death.
Happy 21st, Trayvon. Rest easy.