The day after the George Zimmerman verdict, I hadn't cried for Trayvon Martin yet. I was still stunned, kind of punch drunk from injustice. I walked into Starbucks after hearing about the demonstrations and passionate protests on Trayvon's behalf, and they were playing Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross":
"Many rivers to cross/But I can't seem to find my way over/Wandering I am lost/As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover."
It's a soulful, mournful song about lost love that hits you in your gut. Like when your grandmother dies. But I didn't think about my grandmother; I thought of Trayvon, who has become all our sons. I wanted to cry. I wanted to bend over and wail. Trayvon, another river of injustice to cross over, but I can't seem to find my way. I am lost.
I almost cried when I emailed my brother, who has a 7-year-old, African-American, hoodied son and almost jokingly warned, "Remember not to put Tanner in a black hoodie" — and then I realized that was not some kind of sick joke, but a reality. It was chilling. I didn't cry then, thinking of Tanner's upturned, shining face trusting in his many days ahead. It was too monstrous to think about. So, no, I didn't cry.
But when I heard Jimmy Cliff sing "Many Rivers to Cross," the tears started to come. And then I thought, no, I can't cry for 17-year-old Trayvon because if I start, then I have to cry for Kimani Gray, 16; Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, Ervin Jefferson, 18; Amadou Diallo, 23; Patrick Dorismond, 26; Ousmane Zongo, 43, Timothy Stansburg, 19; Sean Bell, 23; Orlando Barlow, 28; Aaron Campbell, 25; Victor Steen, 17; Steven Eugene Washington, 27; Alonzo Ashley, 29; Wendell Allen, 20; James Brisette, l7; Ronald Madison, 40; Traverse McGill, 16 (Sanford, Fla.); Ramarley Graham, 18; and Oscar Grant, 22.
All black men and boys: sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands who were unarmed and killed by the police.
Being black in America, you have to justify your right to life. We have a black president who has to justify his presidency. I always said that if he walked on water, they would complain that he couldn't swim.
A lot of people think Barack Obama doesn't belong in the White House — that he's an outsider (and alien, even), in the wrong place. George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin was in the wrong place, too. He didn't belong there.
If President Obama has to justify his existence, if black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates can't break into his own house without being arrested, what possible hope did Trayvon have? Like those other murdered black men and boys before him, Trayvon had no right to the streets, the sidewalks of America that a white policeman or vigilante could not violate.
In a 1857 Supreme Court case, a slave, Dred Scott, had been free in Illinois but was not allowed to be free in Missouri. Evidently he had wandered into the wrong neighborhood. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This judge is honored with a statue at the Maryland State House, and there is a ship named after him in Baltimore's harbor.
The Trayvon river of outrage is deep and wide. We hug our children close and take to the streets. One more river to cross. It is a river of tears shed for our haunted and broken children, husbands, fathers, who have been murdered because they had no rights that a white person was bound to respect. I could cry me a river, but that river's not enough.
Auset Marian Lewis is a writer in Baltimore. Her email is email@example.com.