Who would have thought that Barack Obama would say something about this damned case in Florida that would both move me and lead me to break my vow not to blog about it? And who would have thought it was because we would both be coming from essentially the same place.
President Barack Obama waded into the growing national controversy of the killing of an unarmed black teenager in Florida, saying the nation should do some "soul-searching to figure out how something like this happens."
"I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened."
Obama said Trayvon Martin's death particularly resonated with him as an African-American parent.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said in brief remarks outside the White House.
When you teach high school, you have a lot of boys come through your classroom. Most you like and will remember for years. A few slip under your radar, not making much of an impression. A handful of them earn your dislike. But all of them are your boys – and on some level you love them all, even that last group, because they are your boys. That is especially true when, like me, you have not been blessed with sons of your own. You invest in them your hopes and your dreams, and hope that in some small way you have made a positive impact upon them. Regular readers may have noticed that back during the NFL playoffs, when I shamelessly bragged on a couple of former students playing against each other. Members of my church saw it a couple of years back when I got involved in a fundraising project to build a home for a former student who was seriously wounded by an IED in Iraq. My wife, who hears about my students almost daily, has in recent weeks heard that love expressed as pride in one former student as he signed his Division I Letter of Intent to play football at Colorado, anguish upon learning of the arrest of another who I thought had straightened himself out, and compassion when I found that a third had lost his brother in a senseless incident involving a gun. Even my students know it – they’ve all seen my pride in two of my boys who are now fine young men and gifted teachers on the faculty with me. And lest anyone think I’m slighting the girls, I’m not – I love them and am as proud of them as I am of the boys – it is just that the current mess in Sanford, Florida and the words of President Obama have put me in this male-bonding frame of mind.
You see, I have spent almost all of my teaching career in schools where I am the minority. Trayvon Martin could be one of my boys – because most of them have been and are what our society calls “minorities”. When I hear news stories about teens or young men being injured or killed, I look for what part of town it happened in and then, sometimes, I fearfully look for names. I’ve lost one of my boys, an honor student days away from starting college, to a couple of thugs who shot him because he squealed his tires at the previous stoplight. Another, a young husband and father, was stabbed to death during a fight at a party. Those two deaths lead me, like President Obama, to think “that young man could have been one of mine.” But my reaction has a twist. The first of “my boys” mentioned above looked like Trayvon Martin. The second? Well, he looked an awful lot like George Zimmerman.
And that’s why I haven’t wanted to write about this story. From what I can tell, both of these young men were engaged in legal activity – one going to the store and heading home, the other being a good neighbor who spotted and followed a person he thought was suspicious. I would find it easy to fall into the trap of ranting and raving against George Zimmerman for following Trayvon Martin and ultimately shooting and killing a teenager who we now know was doing nothing wrong. But at the same time, I consider reports that George Zimmerman had a bloody nose and other injuries that could indicate some sort of physical altercation and wonder – did whatever confrontation happened between the two young men turn into a scuffle, leading Zimmerman to pull the trigger in the belief that he was defending himself? I don’t know, and am loath to weigh in on the issue of whether there should be criminal charges as a result. What I see are two young men – either or both of whom could be one of my boys – whose lives have been destroyed by what happened that night. This matter needs a significantly better investigation than it has received thus far, and it needs to go wherever the law – not racial rabble-rousing, political posturing or journalistic jabbering – dictates in terms of criminal charges or lack thereof.
So I’ll stand with President Obama on this one. I’m glad there has been a prosecutor appointed by Governor Scott. I’m even glad that there is a Justice Department investigating the matter, though I’m always uncomfortable when there is a rush to make a federal case out of what is essentially a local crime governed by state statutes. I want to see justice done for all involved – whether that means George Zimmerman gets the death penalty, is completely exonerated, or something in between. I’d want nothing less if this tragic shooting left one of my boys dead – or if one of them had pulled the trigger.