It has been a long and stressful week for the United States. No matter their ethnicity, Americans everywhere have had their emotions stretched as they watched the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer. Martin’s killer is the one thing that there is no dispute of. However, every other fact leading up to that moment has been buried with Martin and twisted by both the state and the defense to argue their side’s interest in the criminal trial while the rest of the nation debates them in their homes and on social media largely based on race.
Unlike the Martin killing, social media didn’t exist when Emmitt Till was murdered in Money, MS but the trial of his killers had just as much international attention and was just as polarizing to the nation. Emmitt Till’s murder is heralded as a catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. Now 57 years after the murder of Till, those that remember him or were taught about him as children can’t help but see the similarities between him and Trayvon Martin.
Just as Till’s death in 1955 shed light on the dangers of being a person with brown skin in this country the death of Trayvon Martin will, hopefully bring that same awareness to the dangers of being a child in the United States.
Almost one million children are victims of violence in America each year. When violence or abuse results in the death of a child, the convicted is likely to do as much time for sticking up a convenience store as for killing a child. In fact the average killer of a child in America serves less than 11 years if they are even brought to trial.
Violence against American children and the failure to protect them transcends race. This trial has not, but if only the ages and circumstances of the people involved are examined it someday will. Some Americans might genuinely believe that an adult has the right to follow, approach, and question a child walking home. But there are many who remember that our recent history allowed white men to stop black people and ask them whatever they wanted and if they didn’t get an answer, KILL them. Just as they did Emmitt Till, a young man who was killed by white men who thought they had the right to take the Jim Crow laws into their hands as well.
15-year old Emmitt’s killers had been told that the young man either whistled at or spoke to a white store owner’s wife when he purchased bubble gum. Emmitt’s kidnapping was done in front of his mother’s family by unmasked men. At 2:30 in the morning on August 28, 1955, the store owner and his half-brother kidnapped Till from Moses Wright’s home. They then beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water. Moses Wright reported his nephew’s disappearance to the local authorities, and three days later his corpse was pulled out of the river.
Trayvon’s killer claims to have noticed a strange black teenager whom he decided to follow and question as to “what he was doing in his neighborhood”. He then claims he was forced to defend himself when the teen punched him in the jaw after dragging him into the “T’ of the property and slamming his head into the concrete that Martin somehow located in the grass where his dead body was found after his killer shot him through the heart. Martin’s body had also miraculously lifted itself up in death and taken the arms previously outstretched by his killer and clutched them to his chest.
Both juries deciding guilt or innocence of the men accused of killing Emmitt and Trayvon are all white. In the case of Emmitt Till it was an all male jury because blacks and women were barred from serving on a jury. The jury deciding the fate of Trayvon’s killer is all women one of which is a white Latina. However this does not concern people.
America has reached a time when Americans believe a jury fairly chosen can be impartial regardless of skin color. The trial was fair and presumably the verdict will reflect the evidence not emotions for either side. What concerned and outraged people was the challenge that had to be overcome for Martin’s family to have the due process of a trial in the first place, not the jury.
Like Mamie Till, Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton is educated, and well established in her career with Miami-Dade County where she has been employed for over 20 years. She is a graduate of Grambling State University and has been described as dignified and graceful in the face of great tragedy.
Both women had to stand before the country and plead for the same justice for their children that is the birthright of every American; even though there has never been a question in either case as to who murdered their sons.
Till unfortunately, would not get justice through the criminal justice system because the jury was truly made up of the kidnapping, murderers’ peers. Despite the courage of his uncle who was brave enough to testify in a courtroom against white men in the commission of a crime; and overwhelming evidence of the defendants’ guilt and widespread pleas for justice from outside Mississippi; after deliberating 67 minutes, the panel of white male jurors acquitted both men of all charges.
Only a few months later in January 1956; Emmitt’s killers admitted to killing the teen. But his death and the failure to convict his killers sparked a movement in the young African American community who feared the same could happen to any of them. Till’s death provided an important precursor for the American Civil Rights Movement when one year later the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandated the end of racial segregation in public schools. One hundred days after Emmett Till’s murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama city bus.
As the world waits to see if Martin’s killer will be found guilty for profiling a child that viewed him as a stranger, and whose actions caused him harm and death; or if like Till’s killers he will go free; young people are waiting to see if America will finally place a value on their lives or whether in this social media age they will be forced to take to the voting booths and the web.
In the end, the true victory will come if Americans look at Trayvon Martin as a symbol for all kids and the bigger picture of what occurred on that night in February 2012; and use the trial of his killer as a catalyst to end the violence against children in the United States. Like Mamie Till, Sybrina Fulton will likely be a dignified face in that fight for the rest of her life as she honors her son’s memory.
Watch the video of Watoto kids singing a tribute to Martin below…