Reflecting on Trayvon Martin’s Shooting

by gillis

For the past several days I’ve been trying to digest the information about the Travyon Martin shooting. I’m not sure I can come to an understanding of it, but it has provoked a wide swinging arc of thought in my mind. Here are the ingredients in my brain stew to date:

The sixth grade ELA teacher in my school uses the theme of courage to connect her reading and writing work throughout the year and is now teaching a unit on the Civil Rights movement. She has a large selection of novels as well as video footage and non-fiction pieces for her students to read and respond to in a variety of ways. One of her students told her he thought the whole unit was irrelevant in the year 2012. He felt these issues were in the past and they didn’t impact our lives today. I snorted when she told me that – partly because the student was in my class last year and he questioned the validity of anything he was asked to – but also because I teach in a rural, regional district in western Massachusetts and it’s about 90% white. Including our “relevance officer”. Unfortunately, just days later, Trayvon Martin brought some present day relevance to the unit.

Trayvon Martin’s shooting has also made me think about gun laws in the United States. Full disclosure here in case you’ve not picked up on it yet, I am politically quite liberal and I make no apology for it. I’m thoughtful and deliberate about my views, but I realize that others may be equally thoughtful and still come up with an entirely different set of beliefs. I don’t want the government controlling how I procreate, worship, or choose to entertain myself, however I do think the government should help us all make sure that the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged have the resources they need to live in dignity. I also believe that things like guns should be regulated because they are weapons that are built solely for the purpose of killing, or at least hurting, other beings. I do eat meat and have no issue with hunting, but I have never understand the need for some of our citizens to stockpile weapons, especially those that are designed for combat, not hunting. I think guns should be regulated rather strictly. The man who shot Trayvon Martin was a neighborhood watch volunteer. My neighborhood has a sign that reads “This neighborhood patrolled by Neighborhood Watch,” now I’m wondering if any of my neighbors has the means to start their own militia. I pray it’s not the guy who competitively grows the gigantic pumpkins because he seems a little “off,” if you know what I mean. And I sure hope it’s not the house where the kid blares the loud, droning music whenever his parents are out for the night. I would feel better if I knew which house had weapons inside them. Or perhaps I would feel much worse.

Looking at the photographs of Trayvon Martin, I’m reminded of middle school students I taught in Chicago fifteen years ago. I picture the eighth grade boys who wore hoodies to school every day and who had to arm themselves with bravado just to get to school and back home each day. What the world expects of these kids and what we give them to fortify themselves with doesn’t match up very well. It is every parent’s nightmare to think that you can send your child out into the world and they won’t come back. Knowing that the shooter has not been charged with a crime sends some powerful and chilling messages about what, and whom, our society values. I think we may be at a crossroads of some kind and I hope that the road we take will be wide enough to accommodate everyone.