Seven years ago

I’ve been thinking about Trayvon a lot lately, actually, although I admit I wouldn’t have known today was the anniversary of his murder without the Internet’s help. One of my 8th graders transferred to another school today– there was some sort of a kerfluffle involving DCS that I’m not privy to the details of, and Mom pulled him in retaliation for being reported. And the thing is, every time I’ve ever talked about or to this kid, I’ve thought about two other young black men: Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.

I like the kid, a lot. He’s a Goddamn mess in a lot of ways, but he wasn’t ever mean, and that gets you a hell of a long way with me.  In a building that has more fights in a typical week than anywhere else I’ve ever worked would see in a month, I never once knew him to be violent towards anyone. Which is good, because at 14 he’s 6’3″ and probably around 200-220 pounds. The last time I talked to him, he was complaining about the fact that he still couldn’t dunk a basketball. He was close, he said. It was coming, he was sure. But he wasn’t there yet.

Here’s the thing about him– I gotta call him something; let’s go with Ben, which was Trayvon’s middle name. Ben didn’t always realize quite how big he really was, in a way that you can really only apply to fourteen-year-old boys who have tripled in size in the last year of their lives. He was a physical, touchy sort of dude– he was one of those kids who needs to be in physical contact with anyone they’re talking to, which meant he was constantly putting a hand on my shoulder whenever he talked to me. Hell, he hugged me a few times. I’ve been teaching for sixteen years and I can count the number of male students who have hugged me without a damn good reason on one hand.

And, again, he’s huge. 6’3″. And heavy at that height. And while, again, I never knew him to be violent toward anyone, he had a lot of trouble keeping his mouth shut and — as I said, in a way specific to fourteen-year-old boys — absolutely could not keep his body under control, in a way that I know good and goddamn well intimidated several of our staff members. Did he mean to do it? No, I really don’t think he did. But the same type of behavior from Ben that would be laughed off from a smaller kid got him sent to the office. Because he was huge, and black, and this is America.

And over the course of the, I dunno, maybe six months I’ve known him, I’ve genuinely lost track of the number of times I clamped my mouth shut and didn’t say you can’t be like this because eventually someone is going to shoot you to him. Because a cop took two seconds before killing Tamir Rice in what I will go to my grave describing as a drive-by shooting. Tamir was big for his age too. Because Michael Brown was described in frankly impossible, inhuman terms by the racist cop who murdered him, and Michael was big for his age. And because Trayvon Martin got shot walking home from the corner store because he was a young black man wearing a hoodie at the wrong time.

And because murdering black people is legal in Florida if you’re willing to claim you wuz skurred, but that’s another conversation.

I emailed a couple of friends I have on the staff in his new building. I didn’t really get into the details, but I told them he was a kid I liked and asked them to keep an eye on him for me if they could. I just wish I had someone I could email and ask to protect the kid. Keep him from becoming a hashtag until he’s old enough to have some sense. Keep him from becoming a hashtag after that, too, because black men get gunned down in this country every single goddamn day and having sense isn’t gonna protect you from the likes of George Zimmerman or Darren fucking Wilson.

Just … keep him safe, somebody. Anybody. And fix this broken goddamned country so that we don’t have to worry about this shit any longer.