Do you worry about your husband when he goes for a run after dark? I do.
Because when I look at my husband, I see Trayvon Martin.
I get it, George Zimmerman's jury has spoken. I understand that the prosecution fell short. I know that the "stand your ground" laws are defective. And I recognize the problem of black-on-black violence, too.
But this not-guilty verdict grabs my heart like an iron fist because it affirms a sad belief that to be black, and especially to be a black man, is to be suspicious on sight.
A lot of people don't want to accept race as a factor in this case. Zimmerman is Hispanic, they say. It's about self-defense, they argue. True and true. But that doesn't change what this case symbolizes for black boys and men. In America, they are viewed as dangerous. And until we are willing to talk about it - peacefully - and work to change the laws and rise above stereotypes, history will repeat itself.
Do Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell or Oscar Grant come to mind? These are just a few names in a very long and tragic history of unarmed black men being gunned down. Have you heard of the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk program, which is little more than thinly veiled racial profiling? What did Mayor Michael Bloomberg just say about the controversial policy he pushes: "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little."
After work, my husband changes into basketball shorts and a T-shirt. If it's cold, he'll pull on a hoodie. The other night, he went for a run. Most wives are happy when their husbands work out. I was nervous.
We live in suburbia. A cop or an overzealous vigilante might not see the good man I married running in our neighborhood. They might not see the college graduate, a musician, a track coach, a Bible study leader or the person who makes me laugh from the pit of my belly.
Instead of the beautiful black man with a Colgate smile, they may only see a hoodlum to hunt. He might reach for his iPhone and they might think it's a gun. I'm not overreacting. It happens in America.
Listen to Jeff Cochran, a Kansas City father of three, including a 10-year-old boy.
"It scares me to think about how many times I was walking around late at night as a 17-year-old, dressed like a knucklehead thug in the city and could have been killed, not by gang violence or muggers, but some vigilante justice, " he says. "It also scares me to think about how my son could have some rebellious teen years dressed outside the norm, and his safety could be at risk, since we now live in a world where an example has been made that you can claim self-defense and shoot."
As a Kansas City youth worker, Nicholas Ah-Loe talks to kids who look like Trayvon, who get treated as less than a person. Even in his own neighborhood watch, people continually report young, African-American males walking along, looking suspicious. That's right. Keep your eye on those black men. Apparently, walking in a nice community while black is a strong indicator of criminal intent.
"Far too many young adults are robbed of an opportunity to live a long, loving and purpose-driven life, " says Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed. "It's now important that we embrace the wishes of Trayvon's parents and calmly reflect on our nation's gun laws and violence. We, now, should be as motivated as ever to work together and find real solutions to these problems."
Trayvon Martin looked suspicious simply for being dark and wearing a hoodie in the suburbs. This gave a gun-carrying man the right to follow him. And when that man couldn't handle the fight that he picked by stalking a kid in the first place, he shot him. Trayvon's life is lost forever. But George Zimmerman will get his gun back.
I think about that night. I think about it when I walk my dogs. I think about it when my husband runs. The laws are flawed. And so are our race relations.