Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012, and Jordan Davis, who was also unarmed, are the most recent high-profile examples of young black men who have been killed because white men claimed they feared for their lives. But let’s not forget Garrick Hopkins, 60, and his brother, Carl Hopkins Jr., 61, two brothers from West Virginia who were shot and killed by a white man, Rodney Bruce Black, 62, who thought the Hopkins brothers were trespassing on his land – when in fact, they were inspecting a shed on their own property.
Every month, it seems, I write about another black man who was gunned down simply because he was black. So a black man can’t walk the streets wearing a hoodie like Trayvon Martin; a black man can’t play loud music like Jordan Davis; and black men can’t stand on their own property without being shot to death?
Apparently not. And this is why my friends are having heart-to-heart talks with their black sons about the potential perils of being black and male in America. It’s a conversation that could save someone’s life.
When I was growing up in Detroit during the mid-1960s, my father warned me about white cops who were quick-on-the-trigger and he taught me how to handle myself walking and driving on the streets of Detroit.
I was told to stay away from Dearborn Heights, an affluent, predominantly white Michigan suburb that had a region-wide reputation for not welcoming black folks to the neighborhood. There were all kinds of rumors back then: White supremacists lived in Dearborn; black teenagers could get attacked while biking through the well-manicured neighborhoods; black men could get beat up just for glancing at a white girl; and white boys would yell the N-word at black pedestrians in the area.
As a teenager, I always heard that a black person could easily get shot just for passing through the Dearborn Heights city limits. And that’s exactly what happened to 19-year-old Renisha McBride, an unarmed black woman from Detroit who was shot and killed while seeking help in Dearborn Heights after a car accident on Nov. 2. The shooter, a white man, said he feared for his life and shot McBride in self-defense.
I was blessed to have a father who had a clear understanding about how being black and male in America could be a fatal combination.
Black parents now have the same opportunity to speak directly to your black sons. Talk to your boys today about strange fruit that
hung from trees in long ago autumns.
And tell them how history is repeating itself.