How much does death cost? Not the caskets, flowers or trial coverage, but the death itself? I’m afraid that Trayvon Martin’s death was an expensive one for Black people. And our youth will be covering the tab for years to come.
Chicago is accustomed to death, almost immune to it. Zimmerman’s acquittal was different though, it impacted people in a profound way. The trial was more about justice than death. More about legacy than justice. And more about life than anything else.
Somehow, thought the nation’s Black youth, if I were to lose my own life tomorrow, it should still mean something the day after. Life should not be taken in vain. Especially if you’re asking us to follow all the rules, do well in school, pay taxes, protest peacefully—no matter how reasonable our rage, but we can’t anticipate fairness and value in return? Something seems strange about this deal.
A few hours after the verdict, a group of young people led a march through downtown Chicago, ironically chanting “No justice, No peace." I rallied with them that night, wondering silently who we were talking to and who was listening to us. The echoes of our collective voices reverberating off the towering pillars of capitalism were enough confirmation. We were talking to each other, consoling and supporting one another, and that was perfectly okay.
This week alone, I’ve received dozens of notices about protests and meetings, and I've seen photos of gatherings from around the country. Even Stevie Wonder can see the underlying message in our need to say or do something. Our inability to remain silent and comply is obvious and infectious. There is a beautiful word to describe this moment, a necessary ingredient to any successful movement. It’s called: momentum.
There have certainly been diverse reactions to Trayvon’s tragedy . Reactions saying more about the individual responding than the situation itself. I can’t believe this happened in 2013…What you mad about? This ain’t nothing new…We should trust the system, it works, even when you disagree…America doesn’t care about Black life…So, now what we gonna do… Meanwhile, the youth are watching and studying the adults’ responses, learning from our action and inaction.
Few things are more dangerous than hopelessness and lack of connection to history in our youth. Many Black youth wanted to believe they live in a different America than their parents and grandparents. They read about the dogs and sit-ins, but that’s not our America anymore. We got the Twitter now. The old America couldn’t elect a leader who’s son would look like Trayvon. Miley's twerking. We're post-racial, right?
Along with my sympathies, I offer a challenge to all Black youth who were disappointed by the verdict. Imagine for a moment the alternative. Imagine if Zimmerman would have received the death penalty, would you have celebrated? If Zimmerman’s acquittal means the system is broken, would a guilty verdict have meant the system works just fine? If an acquittal means that America doesn’t value Black life, then would a conviction have meant that we can now trust the American court system as a reliable source of validation? Did we ever think that America valued Black life?
The way I see it, guilty or not guilty, we still would have a need to fight for fairness. Still advocating for the poor. Loving each other anyway. Remembering to protect the vulnerable. Building institutions that serve the masses, not just the elite. Continuing consistent affirmation of brilliant Black culture. Fighting perceptions of Black people that arm people with George Zimmerman with the determination to police us by challenging those who believe them.That’s what life costs. It’s our oxygen tax. Our debt to our ancestors.
This verdict was a tough blow for us, but we’ve had tough blows. We will persevere just like we always have, for our youth, and for our future. We must commit urgently to love Black people more than others hate us, and more than we sometimes hate ourselves. In honor of Trayvon Martin’s sacrifice. In solidarity.
Dr. Obari Cartman is an activist in Chicago.