By the time I learned of a school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14, I had already been grieving for about week — for another Florida teenager. I am reading Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, by Trayvon’s parents. Feb. 26 marked the five-year anniversary of Trayvon’s death.
These new murders took up a new murky space in my head, but without displacing the grief I felt as I immersed myself in the story of Trayvon’s death and its aftermath. Rather than distract me from Trayvon’s story, the events seemed to become further and further intertwined in my mind. The question raised by all this premature death is how do we react in a way that honors the lives of these children?
On both counts, I struggle to come up with ways to engage effectively, not to mention process my grief. Trayvon’s name, image, and legacy have contributed greatly to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, challenging — begging? daring? — the world to see and understand that it isn’t OK to just shoot whenever you feel afraid of a brown person. I’m not sure it’s working — the slogan is known, but the reaction of the larger public has included the election of a president who has neither interest in, nor patience for, demands for a more just policing of black and brown bodies. In Trayvon’s wake, black lives scream from the grave, and our lawmakers have not budged.
It remains to be seen how we will remember the names of the victims in this latest high school massacre. But if the activism of their classmates is any measure, they will be remembered, and their deaths may be the last of this kind. (It appears that the NRA has met a worthy opponent in a nation full of determined teenagers, most of whom are not yet eligible to vote.)
I don’t enjoy observing this national conversation, and constantly wondering why Trayvon’s goodness was not honored in the same unquestioned manner after his death. And I don’t want to make the comparisons, but they just keep smacking me over the head, tackling me with their obviousness. Why was his innocence so easily subject to blame and speculation? He was unarmed and minding his own business, not unlike the Parkland children. I know that implicit bias plays a role, but that doesn’t make it right or fair. And I would love to see changes in gun legislation after the Parkland school shooting, but in a way that does not put targets on the backs of boys like Trayvon, who was shot simply for looking like he might not belong. Why would we want to increase the chances that black boys get shot in their own schools? Don’t we care?
How do we get more people to care?
I don’t know the answer. But I have been thinking that the bravest thing to do right now is to talk about the way I feel.
I feel angry. And I feel helpless. But I’ll dare to hope for justice.
Khara Coleman is an attorney and Oak Park resident.