A February Night Ten Years Ago: 1

21 02 2022

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin went out on a drizzly night in Sanford, Florida, and never came home. His killing at the hands of George Zimmerman marked the beginning of the contemporary movement for black freedom and against police violence, vigilante violence and shoot-first laws like Stand Your Ground. This week we’ll be commemorating Trayvon’s life and the upsurge sparked by his death, mostly through poetry included in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence, a collection of writings, documents and poems on Martin’s case and related ones, edited by Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair and JoAnn Wypijewski (Kopkinders all). We begin with a bit slightly adapted from the book’s introduction.

We didn’t gather up the voices here to settle what must remain unsettled, unsettling. What dissonance there is among the offerings, what gaps in the story, is the story – of life, of death – and no neat tie-up would bring comfort, or that insipid concept closure, or let Trayvon live again.

Trayvon Martin, as bell hooks says here, was “just being a regular teenager,” walking in no particular hurry, chatting on the phone, on his way home during halftime of the NBA All Star Game – “anyone’s son,” to echo the title of Tara Skurtu’s closing poem, and he is dead. That ordinariness is partly what sparked the viral commemorations, the “million hoodie marches,” the countless symbolic and material remembrances, of which the artwork in this book, from a mural in Oakland, is a signal example. Mimi Thi Nguyen, who has written about the hoodie’s symbolism for Signs, catalogued some of those memorializing acts in a public talk:

In mourning, militancy and mimicry, posed hoodie photographs – most often consisting of a simple frontal snapshot of a person in a hooded sweatshirt, hood up – proliferated in the aftermath of Martin’s murder. Tweeting the widely propagated photograph of the NBA’s Miami Heat – hoods raised, heads bowed and hands clasped – LeBron James tagged it: “#WeAreTrayvonMartin… #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice.” In addition to photographs of celebrities in hoodies (Common, Jamie Foxx, Sean Combs, Wyclef Jean, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, Arsenio Hall, CNN contributor and journalist Roland Martin, LeVar Burton, US Representative Bobby Rush, the list goes on), others too sought solidarity through the same, seemingly simple act, including Harvard and Howard law students in front of ivy-covered buildings; elementary schoolchildren lined up along a wall holding bags of Skittles; “moms in hoodies”; New York state senators Kevin Parker, Bill Perkins and Eric Adams; New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm; attendants at vigils and marches; black-and-white drawings of a range of humanity published in a special issue of The New Yorker; even professional portraiture as protest art. Thousands more appear on Facebook pages like A Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin and on Tumblrs (often tagged with #MillionHoodies), including I Am Trayvon Martin, featuring photograph after photograph – often snapped with webcams or mobile phones – of persons with their hoodies up. One well-trafficked photograph depicts a pregnant black woman in a hoodie gazing upon her bared stomach, marked with the words “Am I next?”

Ubiquitous and implicating the living with the dead, those photographs, Nguyen observed, “gesture toward a serial murder, the continuing threat that is realizable at any coming moment.”

They gesture toward something else as well: a refusal to be next.

Watch this space all week for more.



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