By Jann Murray-García
This week I hope you took a few moments to pause with your family in the national remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I have reflected deeply on what a difference a lifetime can see transpire … if we each make it so.
Our rightful and deserved celebration of the tremendous progress we have made since 1963 should not distract us or distort the clarity and life-and-death urgency of the work of today.
Trayvon Martin is the black teenager who was shot to death by Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman in their suburban Florida neighborhood. Arrested only after national media attention and nationwide rallies, Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the killing, albeit having pursued Trayvon against police directive and training.
“We Are Trayvon” is the claim across the nation that the fate of Trayvon Martin, a life of potential, tragically wrecked and uncompleted at 17 years old — is not far from each young African-American, especially black boys in America’s communities, urban and suburban, wealthy and not.
“We are Trayvon Martin!” Yes, in Davis, too.
Trayvon is my son Gabriel Guadalupe García. Trayvon is my precious “play” nephews, Ronald Lewis, William Houie and Tsadiku Obolu. Trayvon Martin is my 4-year-old godson, Judah Mukome, bright, rambunctious and with only enough time for polite affection. Each Sunday at church, he bounds to me, and then silently stands in front of me for a brief second, looking distinguished and smiling broadly in his bow tie and khakis.
Judah was walking with his family in South Davis, when a 7- or 8-year-old walking with his own family exclaimed, “Oh, they are all black! A family full of them!”
Trayvon Martin is Elijah Davis, a 60-year-old black man, a Vietnam veteran, who lives in West Davis. In April of this year, Elijah Davis was mowing his front lawn in the house he has owned and raised his children in for 30 years, when a police officer stopped his patrol car and made him prove that he was the owner of the residence and not the criminal he was looking for. (Was there a public, written apology to this gentleman from the chief of police?)
Trayvon Martin is the Davis black male teenager waiting outside the former Longs Drug Store on Covell Boulevard and Pole Line Road, guarding the unlocked bikes he and a friend had just ridden there. A woman followed them to their next stop, where she confronted them, accusing them of having stolen the bikes from the Longs bike racks. Only when the black teenager got on the phone to his mom, who is married to his dad, who is wildly successful, did the stranger back off.
Trayvon Martin is the black and Latino students at Davis High School whom their schoolmates consistently report are “disciplined more harshly for the same behavior,” and whose “behavior is monitored more closely” than students of other races. So responds 20 to 30 percent of white and Asian students, as well as the majority of black and Latino students, on a student-created, -administered, and -analyzed written survey in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
I am Trayvon Martin.
Recall the column I wrote, describing my children, a car-pooling neighbor and I being unknowingly followed close enough to have another driver record and report my license plate to the police because they thought my laughing 13-year-old was abusing my laughing 9-year-old and his white schoolmate, as my daughter playfully bonked Gabriel with a four-page California Aggie newspaper from the front seat of my car.
That person caused the traumatizing of my children, as the Davis officer who showed up at my home 10 minutes later understandably needed to see my children to confirm both their ages and my story of them simply letting off some after-school steam.
All Davis stories. All true stories. All within the past five years.
Overwhelming? This is why our perspectives as Americans can differ so greatly on the Zimmerman trial outcome. You don’t hear all the stories precisely because they are humiliating, and would be questioned for whether they represent a truly racial pattern, or someone just having a bad day, or whether they are true at all.
If you tell me, “Don’t worry, Jann, that would never happen to your son,” I would answer mournfully: “Yeah, who would believe that in suburbia, an unarmed black teenager, well on his way to college, from a loving, non-poor family with engaged parents — I repeat, with his father involved — could be walking in his own neighborhood and then …?
If we feel powerless to contribute nationally, can we at least weigh in locally?
This school year, we aim to bring focus to the racially unequal rates of school suspensions, at-home and in-school, that occur in Davis schools. As across the country, as noted by the Department of Justice and the American Academy of Pediatrics, black and Latino students are suspended in Davis schools at two to three times the rates of white and Asian students. Suspension rates are highest, and racial disparities are greatest, in Davis’ junior high schools, also consistent with national patterns.
Will you join me in Trayvon’s honor? Let’s celebrate the decreases in Davis suspension rates for all groups, while we ask for public reporting of at-home and in-school suspension data, and the solutions attempted thus far. Please email the district superintendent (email@example.com) and the school board members (firstname.lastname@example.org) this week.
Oh, and respectfully — I don’t personally need to be chastised for all of the black-on-black violence in America’s cities, for not mentoring enough local kids, for not caring enough to devote my training and my career to improving the life chances of those marginalized and deemed expendable locally and nationally, for not working to find creative solutions to our disinvestment in the core of our nation’s cities, disinvestment that leaves these neighborhoods without adequate transportation, access to meaningful employment, and the high-quality schools our own children enjoy.
That is my daily work, both paid and unpaid, as with so many Americans.
Now will you join me and my aching heart? I have a longer version of this article, with more stories, if you email me for it.
— Jann Murray-García, M.D., M.P.H., is a Davis parent and pediatrician. She shares this monthly column with Jonathan London. Reach her at email@example.com