Marching with Trayvon and Martin Luther King, Jr.
To a young person, the civil rights movement seems like ancient history. The March on Washington in 1963 occurred in a very different time, before a man walked on the moon, before color TV, before microwaves, or hybrid cars. Protestors wore suits and ties, skirts and gloves, and high heeled shoes not meant for walking blocks to the Lincoln Memorial. Even so, many expected riots and violence. Toops were called out. Tensions were high, and Washingtonians were on edge.
It was very hard to conjure that mood at the 50th anniversary observance, which felt like a huge celebration of something good and fine. Family groups were everywhere, with children running and playing, and picnics popping up on the grass of the National Mall. It felt like a safe place to be, a spot to both commemorate and make history simultaneously. It was also the scene for a revealing mother/daughter talk, prompted by the signs and shirts bearing Trayvon Martin's face and name.
"How could the man that shot Trayvon Martin go free?"
"In Florida, if you are charged with murder, you can plead certain defenses. If you can prove a defense, then you won't be found guilty, even if you did kill someone. One of these defenses is that if you feel scared for your life, you are allowed to shoot to defend yourself. It's called 'standing your ground'. Mr. Zimmerman convinced the court that he was scared for his life when he shot Trayvon, so he wasn't found guilty."
"But how could he be scared? He was the one that started it all. Trayvon only had a soda and some candy."
"It doesn't matter if you would be scared in that situation. It only matters that Mr. Zimmerman was scared, or was able to convince the jury that he was. The only person who could contradict that is Trayvon, and he is dead. So there was no evidence to contradict Mr. Zimmerman's evidence."
"But why did he even have a gun? There are so many guns everywhere. If there had been no gun, Trayvon would not have been shot."
"That's true. But the law allows guns. In fact, there is a gun for every man, woman, and child in the US right now. So getting and carrying a gun is pretty easy."
"Why don't we try to make it harder for people to get guns? Wouldn't it be better for everyone if there were fewer guns? Then more people would be alive."
"Yes, probably fewer guns would mean fewer gun murders. But it isn't possible to cut down the number of guns, because people who own them, and make them and sell them, give lots and lots of money to politicians, the people who make the laws about who can have guns and how easy they are to get. Do you remember when the children at Sandy Hook Elementary were shot? There was a big push after that shooting to pass a law to restrict guns. The horrible deaths of those 24 children were fresh on everyone's mind, and people that want fewer guns thought finally, they could defeat the power and the money of pro-gun groups. But even then, not enough of the men and women in Congress would vote for the bill. So, everything has stayed exactly the same."
"Oh, my God. That's terrible. That makes me feel not safe."
"None of us are safe. In fact, by refusing to pass that bill, your Congress said it was more important to let people have guns if they wanted them than to keep children safe from people who misuse them."
"But that's so wrong, I can't believe that. Is anybody doing anything about that?"
"Lots of people are trying. It's a struggle that will go on for a long time, I think. The only way around it is to vote for different people in the next election. But even then, supporters of gun rights will give lots and lots of money to candidates, who can buy tons of commercials, and influence the election."
"Okay, I can't even talk about this, I am getting so angry. Oh, my God. I have to stop talking about this now. You know what my favorite part of the speeches was today?"