From Leigh Davenport, Editorial Director of Hello Beautiful:
Whenever issues of young Black masculinity become part of the national discourse, I often make reference to my little brother. As I am not yet a mother, he is my benchmark for how the world treats young Black male bodies. At 25 years-old he is 6’2, slender, fair-skinned with a small bit of facial hair and walks through the streets of Chicago and New-York most often in a singular uniform: black jeans, a black or white t-shirt, and a grey hoodie.
It’s a hoodie I bought him last year for Christmas. Like most young millennial boys, my 25 year-old brother lives in the same three items until he literally wears holes in them. This means on any given day, if it’s cool outside or raining, there he is: jeans, t-shirt, grey hoodie.
My brother is a classically trained jazz musician. He attended Manhattan School of Music and plays tenor sax and about five other instruments give or take. When he’s not playing jazz music, he also makes hip-hop beats. And let’s be honest, sometimes he smokes weed. He’s an awesomely sweet, non-confrontational, non-threatening kid. But the next time he steps out quickly to go to the bodega, I’ll be a bit more worried about him coming home. The truth is, since he was born, he is and always has been a target.
A year ago, when my brother had returned home to Chicago for a while, my mom would call and tell me about how much my brother was running the streets partying with our little cousin of the same age. With the violence in Chicago raging, I strongly encouraged her to support him returning to New York City. I preferred him sleeping on my couch than catching a stray bullet on the Southside. Here, I’ll worry about him being stopped & frisked, in Chicago, I’d just worry.
I’ve lost a good number of friends thus far in my young life, both male and female. But not one of my female friends died violently, or at the end of a gun-barrel. On the contrary, I’ve got three male gun deaths, one paralyzed from a drive-by and another who was beaten to death. And for many Black women, this is a terribly commonplace story. My own personal account doesn’t even come close to so many others who have lost so many people.
Two weekends ago, my brother and I flew to St.Louis for our family reunion. After the picnic, he and my 23 year-old cousin decided to drive back to Chicago early. As it was the start of the 4th of July weekend, my mother promptly launched in to a speech. “You be careful out there. Don’t you speed, don’t you drive recklessly. It’s the holiday weekend and the police will be out. You all get pulled over in one of these small towns in Southern Illinois there’s no telling what will happen. You drive slowly, you here me?!” I wanted to think she was being dramatic, but as I looked in her eyes and listened to her tone, I realized she was genuinely concerned, because every Black mother of a Black son has no choice but to be that concerned. That is the terrifyingly truthful reality that we were all made brutally aware of on Saturday night. We must still worry for our sons. We worry for our husbands. We worry for our fathers, uncles, cousins and friends. We know our Black men are always at risk, and we know the paranoia and discomfort they feel everyday when they leave the house is real and justified. And so, here I am trying to figure out what to do with these emotions and these tears that flow for Trayvon. The best thing I can come up with is fear for my little brother who wears a hoodie everyday.
Through the tears that have flowed somewhat endlessly from my eyes over the past 24 hours, I find myself alternating between fear and sadness. I am sad that I was ever hopeful that justice would prevail in the case Trayvon’s death. I am fearful that I no longer have that hope. I am sad that a court of law just told my brothers, cousins, friends and father that even today, when the most powerful man in the free world looks just like them, they can still be hunted and killed like animals—like Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and so many more. I am fearful that the next time my kid brother goes to the bodega he might not make it home. And most of all, I am sad that I have to have these fears.
First an foremost, there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that Trayvon Martin’s hoodie sweatshirt had anything to do with why he is dead. That is a myth that was manufactured out of whole cloth by someone at the law firm of Parks & Crump.
Ms. Davenport’s comparison of Trayvon Martin to other victims of homicide is dishonest. Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy who was kidnapped, beaten, mutilated and then murdered by two men for allegedly flirting with a married white woman. Evers and King were civil rights leaders who were assassinated by snipers. Bell and Diallo were both unarmed men who were killed by cops in incidents involving multiple officers and 40+ rounds fired in each incident.
None of those cases is factually similar to the death of Tayvon Martin. The only common factor in each case is that each man was black and was killed by one or more white or Hispanic men. As far as I can tell none of those other black men was wearing a hoodie when he was killed. The six cases were spread over 60 years and several different states.
I can understand Ms. Davenport’s concern about her brother becoming a victim of the violence raging in Chicago. But the vast majority of that violence is intra-racial. That’s why I suspect that the five male friends she mentions who were killed or paralyzed were victims of black-on-black violence. But I’m not sure what that has to do with hoodies.
I am certainly not one to defend bad cops but the reason that the deaths of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Oscar Grant are so well-known is because cases like that are so rare. There is no evidence that our nation’s police officers are systematically stopping and killing black men for no reason other than that they were wearing hoodies.
A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear. An example is the fear of flying. While you can certainly die in a plane crash it is still one of the safest ways to travel. Nothing in life is risk-free.
Young black men are the demographic with the highest risk of dying by violence. But is the key part of that demographic the “young”, the “black” or the “men”? Or is it something else like residential zip code, economic status, gang membership, education or activities? We can calculate the homicide rate by lots of different factors.
The problem is that when you start digging into all the numbers and risk factors things get all hazy and blurry and some people prefer black and white answers.