What I Hope For. . .


Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx

On Wednesday the defense rested in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was walking home from a convenience store, in 2012. Some time in the near future, we will find out whether the jury was convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

As this trial comes to a close, I am still thinking about the testimony of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, last week on July 5. I admired her courage on the stand, and I felt agony when I heard the 911-recording, in which there is a scream and then a gunshot. When she identified that scream as being her son’s voice, I’m sure she was “dying inside but outside [she was] looking fearless.”

When it was the defense attorney’s turn to question Fulton, he had an odd line of questioning about “hope.” The defense tried to shake her resolve by asking, “You certainly had to hope that was your son screaming even before you heard it. Correct?” She replied, “I didn’t hope anything. I just listened to the tape.” Then later in re-cross, the defense asked, “You certainly would hope that your son Trayvon Martin did nothing that led to his own death. Correct?” After some wrangling she said, “What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have never happened, and he would still be here. That’s my hope.”

She handled herself beautifully against the defense’s implication that her “hope” might have influenced her response to the 911-recording, that she was more interested in getting a conviction than hearing the “truth” about her son. The defense’s “truth” is that the unarmed teenager was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.

Unfortunately and tragically, there are many other cases in which young black men have been targeted because they fit the profile of a “suspect,” because they were in a places they didn’t “belong,” because they were playing loud music, or some other equally inane justification. I have been to the building where Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant, was killed by New York City police officers (wearing plain clothes) in 1999. Diallo fit the profile of a rape suspect. When reaching for his wallet, the officers assumed he was reaching for a gun and fired 19 bullets into his body.

I have stood under the street sign (Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx) named in honor of Amadou Diallo. Will there be a street sign with Trayvon Martin’s name on it one day?  “What I hope for” is that there won’t be any more street signs like “Amadou Diallo Place.” I don’t want to see memorials to young black men whose lives were cut down before they really began, signs in memoriam of short lives with tragic ends instead of long lives and great accomplishments.


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