What happens when a man gets a gun in his hand? Does it conjure up a lust for violence, for death, even? Even a toy gun for a child’s game of ‘Cops and Robbers’ signifies power, a chance to shoot the bad guy on the playground. But is the feeling that different for a grown man and his gun? For too many men who hold real guns in their hands, the goal is to maintain order or control—by any means necessary. And that means they look for other men to control…men of a different race or socioeconomic status than their own.
The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man with the gun that killed Trayvon Martin, has sparked outrage across the nation, especially among mothers of young black men. In many ways, Martin’s death harkens back to the murder of another young black man, decades earlier, in 1955 in segregated Mississippi.
TWO TRAGEDIES LINKED Emmett Till, a young and precocious boy of 14, was visiting his southern relatives. Till lived in Chicago and attended an integrated school. He boasted to his Mississippi friends, who still lived under the iron fist of Jim Crow, that he went to school and was friends with white girls. At a local store, his friends dared him to approach a married, white woman. He’s alleged to have whistled at her and said, “Hey lady.” Emmett crossed the line of sex and race. And so men with guns, seeking to maintain order and control, kidnapped and murdered him.
Emmett Till’s innocent gesture cost him his life. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley did the unthinkable when she displayed her son’s butchered corpse at his funeral. But she wanted the world to see just what evil and brutality men with guns were capable of when they took “the law” into their own hands.
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Fast forward to 2012, a world where marrying a person of a different race is common, where public schools are integrated across the United States, and where the rights of African-American men and women are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So why did Trayvon Martin meet an end so similar to Emmett Till’s—just for being a black teenager. Martin was acting like a normal American teenage boy: he was walking home, eating a snack, talking on his cell phone. But a man with a gun, who wanted to keep order in his neighborhood, decided Martin was a criminal and took his life. The same racial bias that killed Emmett Till led George Zimmerman to take the life of Trayvon Martin.
ACQUITTAL & OUTRAGE On September 23, 1955, Emmett Till’s murderers walked free, with smiles on their faces. On July 12, 2013, Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. Two bullets, 58 years apart. What is the worth of an African-American teenager in the 21st century? Our justice system has declared its answer: not much. More importantly, what do we do about men and their guns? We must break the notion that to maintain order and control, a gun is necessary. We must dispel the myth that a male who wields a gun has the right—and the obligation—to conquer the enemy, subdue his offenders, or render his perceived enemies powerless.
Racial bias and men with guns is a deadly combination, especially for young black men who “fit the profile.” Until this nation gets serious about gun control legislation, young men like Emmett and Trayvon will always be potential targets for men with guns, who claim—absurdly—to be on the right side of the law.