The Following is a Guest Post by my close friend Troy Olson who is currently serving his country overseas.
Last month, when an American teenager left to get skittles and iced tea to enjoy while watching the NBA he did not expect to be gunned down by a vigilante in training on his way home. This young man followed the rules in every way possible. He followed the law. He was near his home inside a gated community. Trayvon Martin was a seventeen year-old African-American.
This saddens me, but my feelings cannot compare to the sense of injustice felt across the African-American community. I am not going to sit here and say I know what it’s like. However, when I was Trayvon’s age I did have a weapon pulled on me by a neighbor. I cannot help but think if my skin color had been darker would I have met the same unjust end?
I cannot possibly imagine… What I can do is my absolute best to try and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes—for meaning, for comfort, to express solidarity. Even this probably isn’t enough. Perhaps I should ask this question instead. If I had been eating skittles and walking home that day in Florida, would I have been shot and killed? I have no doubt that I would not have been. .
What happened last month in Florida was not just a case of racial profiling, it was a case of youth profiling. Race and age; two prejudices that are hard to overcome and can only be conquered with education and a little help from your friends.
Since when is any response proportional when it ends in the death of an unarmed individual? There is simply no excuse for this. George Zimmerman killed an African-American teenager. He killed an AMERICAN teenager. Charges should be brought against him, but I am not going to delve into the particulars of the ongoing legal investigation. Instead I want to discuss the issues of race and youth.
Too often in this country we feel the issue of race, and the gap between races and at times, outright alienation felt by some has been conquered for all times merely because we have elected our first black President. Too often in this country we equate wisdom and experience with the number of years someone has existed on this Earth.
Too often in this country older Americans look upon their younger counterparts with assumptions that we lack their character and sense of right and wrong. As a result of this, a sense of distrust in adults and other authority figures is created in the minds of the young. Too often in this country we are quick to incarcerate young people over non-violent charges. Too often we are quick and harsh on judgment and slow and light on solidarity and empathy.
Too often in this country, liars and demagogues from the right and left pounce to score quick political points from tragedies. Situations like the one’s involving Trayvon Martin and Gabbie Giffords are politicized, not just by politicians either—but by some of our own cynical minds that hear our elected leaders speak to the country and what we hear is politics and we run to our scorecards and spin rooms to tally up the latest count.
To those who are responding negatively to what appears to be a quick public indictment of George Zimmerman, but do so by disparaging Trayvon and attempting to ruin his reputation. I have words for you that I cannot utter here. He was seventeen years old, with his entire life ahead of him. He could have been anybody he wanted to be… Believe me when I say that. Life has barely started when you are seventeen, which is why this is so sad. You have barely even tapped into your best emotional and moral development years. To those who suggest this was invited, I hope you are prepared to be suspicious of the countless Americans, young and old who wear a hoodie. I met my future wife in a hoodie. The founder of Facebook wears a hoodie. If it were admissible for me to wear a hoodie right now—I would be wearing one.
To those who want quick and swift justice for Trayvon and those that want vigilante justice in response to Zimmerman’s poor and pathetic imitation of your favorite comic book character—I urge you to remember the words of Gandhi, “eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Just like you, I hope justice wins the day. I want to believe in the system. I have to. But let’s be patient and better than the man who so quickly rushed to his own judgment and took Trayvon’s life. Whether charges stick or not, Zimmerman has already lost the most important verdict in the court of public opinion. As more facts come out, hopefully law enforcement officials will do their job and give Trayvon’s family and friends some measure of justice. It will never be enough. It never is.
For the time being, maybe some of us can be content knowing that a young American, taken long before his time is being greeted by angels. While another one’s ship is about to come in. Maybe that will be enough…
Regardless of whether it is or not, the best response to this is to not continue the cycle of violence, and hate, and alienation. If we are to mend the gap between races, generations and age-groups we must summon the very best of ourselves. This begins with the simplest acts of kindness, understanding, and yes, forgiveness.