Sean Pittman, Esq.
Following the George Zimmerman trial, the idea of an unarmed teenage Black kid being killed and his killer set free by a jury in Sanford Florida, has ignited criticism of the State of Florida and aggravated our nation’s most tender wound: Race. Trayvon Martin’s death, Zimmerman’s verdict and “Stand Your Ground” laws have brought another national dilemma to Florida.
The rhetoric associated with this most recent reminder of the ever present racial tension in America has come from all avenues, including respected and influential political, legal, civil rights, and social figures. The verdict has solicited sympathizers from the Black community, but also other races and demographics who have publically mourned the injustice. Trayvon Martin’s untimely death prompted responses both in opposition and in support of the jury’s not guilty verdict, but more importantly it has prompted African Americans to update our rules on social interaction.
Huh? Well, growing up as an African American male there were certain rules that my parents, and the parents of other Black boys, instilled in us early and often from a young age. Rules which curb my behavior and inhibit my personality – but, none the less, rules that could potentially save my life. Because, for Black children safety rules extend beyond the universal don’t talk to strangers.
Unfortunately, the Trayvon Martin case has added to the list of otherwise innocuous behavior for the Black community, especially young Black boys, which could present a question of death or prison. As such, I am prompted to remind our young Black men that these unwritten rules are still in place. Therefore, until laws such as “Stand Your Ground” are repealed – the following unwritten rules could potentially save lives.
1. Be conscious of your surroundings and always explain why you are where you are, even when no one asks you and you have a legal right to be there;
2. Do not run, jog, move swiftly or even skip in the presence of police;
3. Smile excessively to appear non-threatening;
4. Change your dialect and tone of voice to something familiar to your audience;
5. Dress conservatively to appear trustworthy and approachable;
6. Make visible and drop everything in your hands, and make them visible if confronted by police;
7. Answer questions with yes sir, no sir to show you have manners, a respect for adults and a decent upbringing.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, we must update the rules to include:
8. Do not walk slowly in the rain;
9. Wear a suit and carry a NY Times bestselling book at ALL times because Skittles and an Arizona iced tea are no longer safe;
10. If you have to scream, scream “its me” and say your name;
11. If all other rules fail RUN, remembering an injury to the BACK invalidates any grounds for self defense or “Stand Your Ground” defenses.
I think that it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that I should have to teach my child these rules. This new generation of Black children should have the opportunity to enjoy a post Obama-era, where they are judged by the content of their character and not by their hue, their attire or their age. If nothing else, this should be a time where an innocuous hoodie, does not become the basis of an inquisition.
As I have mentioned on my television show, Black people carry the burden of other people’s suspicions. This is exactly what killed Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman’s wrong assumptions about Trayvon has uncovered the unfortunate fact that people process individuals of color in a negative light and this fact resulted in death of an unarmed teenager. Add the ability to profile, based on race, attire, age or otherwise, and a “Stand Your Ground” law, we are left with an overwhelming sense that being ourselves is inherently dangerous.
Finally I should clarify that, “Stand Your Ground” law being applicable or not, I believe this case exposes a legal system coated with racist undertones. I do not believe George Zimmerman is a racist. I don’t think he killed Trayvon because he hates black people. I believe he killed Trayvon because he is a coward. I believe he instigated a fight that he could never, in his mind, body or soul, finish FAIRLY. In addition, I think that the Stand Your Ground law (as it stands – pun intended) creates a safe haven for cowards. In my day, you gave a whooping or you took a whooping, but everybody lived to fight another day.
Sean Pittman, Esq. is an experienced attorney, lobbyist and television personality living in Tallahassee, Florida.