In the Reconstruction Era, Americans created an image of young black men with uncontrollable inclinations to violence, to raping white women and to harming white families who could only be stopped by a noose around their necks. In the New Millennium, a team of defense lawyers paint a picture of a black child armed with speed, superior power in his fist and concrete as his weapon who could only be stopped by a bullet through his heart.
This year, we have witnessed a 21st Century lynching. We witnessed a gang of men criminalize the life of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. We witnessed the murderer of a child declared “not guilty” by a jury of white women. We witnessed our legal system justify the killing of black youth because of the fear of grown white men. And all black Americans could do was watch with teary eyes and fists balled with fury, feeling helpless and disappointed.
Lynchings served as reminders to blacks and minorities to stay in our place in America or else we’d find ourselves swinging from a tree. The trial of George Zimmerman reminds black America that we are still strange fruit. We are still unwelcome additions to the country we were forced to call home. We make “real” residents so uncomfortable that once again, they can legally kill us where we stand.
So what do we do when history repeats itself? What do we do when we can’t look to our leaders or our justice system to give us the freedoms others enjoy? We become leaders ourselves. We should become the 21st Century Malcolm Xs, Rosa Parks, Assata Shakurs, Stokely Carmichaels, and Dr. King Jrs. We should never forget their teachings. We should never forget our bloodied and battered pasts, and we should never forget Trayvon Martin or the feeling we had watching his murderer go free.