I grew up in the shadow of the Nation’s capital, literally five minutes from the Washington city line. My neighborhood was crime-ridden and overrun with the crack epidemic of the 1980s that ravaged the nation. During this time was also an explosion of so-called urban fashion trends that the youth in my home town clung to feverishly. Although I was from the neighborhood, I wasn’t entirely of the environment. Yet, I, too, wore the baggy hoodies, big sweatshirts, loose jeans, and generally dark clothing of the time.
Police in Prince George’s County in Maryland were infamous for targeting Black teens who simply gathered around. Loitering laws were strictly enforced, even if you were in front of your own home. This isn’t to say that some of the boys I ran with were all angels, including myself; however, we were mostly just hanging out and being kids. The common refrain from the D.C. boys who never dared to cross the state line was “those PG cops be bustin’ heads for no reason” – and this was quite true for us.
The case of Trayvon Martin hits home in a variety of ways because of my own experiences. I speak for many Black men across the nation when I say that there is a xenophobic level of paranoia levied upon us by how the media has portrayed our group. I can even admit openly that because of the perpetuated stereotypes, I’ve gotten tense around large groups of Black boys and men who most times have no ill intentions. This manner of rash thinking is the very reason why we’re having this unfortunate conversation.
For Trayvon, just wearing his hoodie to shield him from wet weather led to him becoming a target of a reckless gunman. Even in my older age, I still don hoodies when I’m making a quick dash to my local supermarket. I think to myself, what if I wore a hoodie and I happened to saunter off to visit a friend of mine who lives in the high-end suburbs that pepper the region? What do I look like to a nervous neighborhood watchmen lumbering about in my hoodie minding my own business?
Fashion today is still as zany as it was when I was a boy, albeit much different than in my day. Although I may grumble under my breath that these boys and girls are wearing clothes I find grating to the eye, I don’t begrudge them for their fashion choices. It would be unfair for me to assess youngsters based on how they looked. That’s the same thing George Zimmerman did when he assumed the worst of Trayvon Martin. It’s the same type of racial profiling I had to endure as a teenager and I’m sure it’s even worse for young Black children now.
Zimmerman’s assumptive actions led to the death of a boy who supposedly looked the part, but was in no way engaging in criminal activity. How then are we supposed to tell our boys we live in a world that cares about them when a child is murdered basically for walking while Black?