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WARNING: Don’t Wear a Hoodie in Florida

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Apologies for the over the top headline, I just needed to grab your attention. I also wanted to make a statement that’s an idiotic generalization, almost as clueless as some of the commentary I’ve seen and read about the shooting of young Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed in Florida recently by a “neighborhood watch leader”. According to his parents, he was walking home after purchasing candy from a convenience store. That’s right, he probably used his allowance to buy some Kit Kats and instead of enjoying his candy he was killed…and some say it’s because he was black.

Now some of you may have heard of the term DWB otherwise known as Driving While Black. My dad used this phrase often when I was growing up as a kid and when I finally received my license at seventeen he told me that I needed to make sure that I didn’t wear apparel that made me look like I was “up to no good”. At the time, I often wore baseball caps, bandanas (usually blue or black), and those 90s era circle sunglasses. My dad didn’t want me driving in anything like that because he was concerned police would mistake me for a ‘hoodlum’. Apparently wearing a hoodie while also being black is a dangerous proposition in Florida, and Trayvon Martin never received the memo.

I jest of course, but whenever shootings like this happen in America, there’s always a rush to inject race into the conversation and make a number of ridiculous generalizations.

Zimmerman was a racist.

If Trayvon was white he’d be alive today.

We don’t need guns in America because guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

And on and on.

Fair or not, as human beings we try to make sense of things. If we’re picked last during baseball tryouts we want to know why. We use the information available to us and develop a reasoning. Perhaps the coach is angry at our parents. Perhaps the coach doesn’t like us because we get better grades than the coach’s son. Whatever the case may be, we have a need to explain any injustice that comes into view especially when we see no rational reason for certain events. And rationally, it makes no sense for a young man of 17 to be gunned down on his way home from a convenience store.

Make no mistake, it’s a tragedy. If Trayvon was your son you’d be doing exactly what his parents are doing – fighting tooth and nail to bring his killer to justice. Regardless of the killer’s race, creed, religion, political affiliation, you’d want them to pay for what they did. I imagine the most difficult aspect of the ordeal is the fact that their son is dead and Zimmerman is walking around free claiming self-defense. Again, imagine if it was your son. Wouldn’t it make your blood boil to read about how the killer claimed self-defense and what’s worse the police believed his story?

So what are we to make of this? Do we jump on the racist bandwagon and call Zimmerman and the Sanford police department racists? Do we jump on the anti-NRA bandwagon and call for stricter gun laws? Do we shrug our shoulders and wish I wrote about Cicilline and not about a subject relevant to those a thousand miles away?

I think it’s lazy to do any of the above without a thorough investigation of the facts. It’s easy for Al Sharpton to say “Arrest Zimmerman now!” and even easier for Geraldo Rivera to claim that Martin’s hoodie led to his death. It doesn’t take much intellectual flexing to conclude that racism is the cause of Martin’s death. It takes much more to time, patience, and fortitude to find the true answer.

And what’s the most bothersome is that the same people crying foul about Martin’s hoodie being linked to his shooting are also the same people saying his death was the result of racist motivation. At this point we don’t know the answer, but it’s important to discover what caused Zimmerman to shoot Martin. It’s an answer Martin’s parents deserve to have and one that the country needs. If the result finds racism was a factor in the shooting, fine. If it wasn’t a factor, we need to know that as well.

I don’t want to live afraid of wearing my hooded sweatshirt or bandana if I decide to make a snack run at 1am. No one should. At the same time, we shouldn’t have an irrational racist fear that is based on nothing more than assumption.

Trayvon Martin is dead and won’t be coming back. Hopefully his legacy is not one of fear of the hoodie but of an intelligent discussion about what caused his death and how to avoid similar situations from happening again.

Don Roach is a member of the RI Young Republicans.

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