In Barboursville, West Virginia, in January, Rodney Black shot Garrick Hopkins and his brother Carl (both of whom were African-American) dead after he saw them inspecting a shed on land they’d just bought next door. Black thought they were trespassing on his property, so he shot first and then called 911. In Philadelphia a few weeks earlier, Darrin Manning, 16, had to have surgery on his testicle after being stopped and searched by police on his way to a basketball game. In Dearborn Heights, Michigan, on November 2, Renisha McBride, 19, was shot dead after knocking on a door seeking help after a car accident. Near Charlotte, North Carolina, in September, Jonathan Ferrell knocked on a stranger’s door, also seeking help following a car crash. The homeowner reported an attempted burglary to the police, who came and promptly shot Ferrell dead. The fate of the assailants in these cases currently lies with the courts—but few African-Americans have any illusion that this is where justice resides. George Zimmerman felt threatened by a boy almost half his age. When Trayvon Martin couldn’t produce papers proving that he wasn’t a “punk,” Zimmerman felt justified in killing him. The judicial system backed him up.
It’s not enough that Zimmerman killed Trayvon in cold blood, not enough that he walked away from it without being arrested immediately, not enough that it took thousands of people across the country marching and protesting to bring charges against him, not enough that he was acquitted and not enough that he remains free to accumulate more domestic violence charges. No, he has to also become a celebrity, built on his ‘career’ of killing black children and abusing women.
Justice needs to be more proactive. It should consist of an entire society doing everything it can to ensure that what happened to Trayvon never happens again. This includes a commitment to seeing the humanity in black men and boys, and letting go of the entrenched idea of their inherent criminality. It means divesting from the racist ideology that would have us believe black men are preternaturally violent creatures seeking to wreak havoc on America. Justice is black boys not having to grow up with that hanging over their heads. Justice is support for their potential. Real justice is this country truly believing that the killing of black boys is a tragedy.
That Zimmerman fumbled for an answer when the lead investigator asked whether he thought Trayvon was afraid of him is emblematic of the way society has trained us to think about black manhood. Of course he didn’t think Trayvon could be scared. Young black men never are. They are the danger. Which is also why, for some, Zimmerman’s story, even with the cartoonish language he ascribes to Trayvon, doesn’t sound far-fetched. A black man jumping from behind the bushes to sucker punch someone they don’t know and attempt to kill them only a short distance from their home. It makes perfect sense if you believe that black men are preternaturally violent.
I’m straight up jealous of everyone that doesn’t have to think about racism. I can only imagine how free they are. I’d like a life that didn’t involve me mourning young men I’ve never met as martyrs. There are people who can say, without laughing, that the election of the nation’s first black president means that racism, as a defining factor of American life, is over. I envy those people who are able to look at President Obama and see only progress. Like many, I was overcome with emotion I still can’t quite define that night in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. But the thrill is gone and in the aftermath all I can see is Sean, Oscar and Trayvon standing behind him asking everyone ‘when does this end?’
Hot off the presses—the latest issue of The Nation is here! 
Inside this week’s issue:
Investigation: Two Years After the BP Spill, A Hidden Health Crisis Festers: Gulf residents and cleanup workers continue to suffer serious health problems from the 2010 disaster, but the oil giant is not being held to account.
Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania? A DOJ probe into the mental health program at a medium security prison could put solitary confinement on trial.
Guns, Gays and Democrats: Yes, the NRA and ALEC pushed pro-gun bills, but they were helped in many instances by Democrats too afraid to take on one of the culture war’s signal issues.
Justice for Homeowners—Still Not Served: It took pressure from progressives to get a partly decent mortgage fraud settlement. They can’t take their eyes off the prize now.
Ann Romney, Working Woman? The brouhaha over Hilary Rosen’s comments was not really about whether what stay-home mothers do is work.
The Real Injustice at the Heart of the Trayvon Martin Case: What makes this case exceptional is neither race nor the politics of self-defense alone but the total failure to investigate it for so long.
Save Earth Day: To transform this bland, tired ritual into an occasion for spirited collective action, Earth Day must return to its roots.
& much more

Hot off the presses—the latest issue of The Nation is here!

Inside this week’s issue:

& much more

President Obama: ‘If I Had a Son, He’d Look like Trayvon’

Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden at the White House this morning, President Barack Obama said that the parents of Trayvon Martin are in his thoughts and that it is imperative that we “get to the bottom of exactly what happened.” “You know, if I had a son,” Obama said, “he’d look like Trayvon.”

Find The Nation's coverage of the shooting of Trayvon Martin here.