I had had it. Too many people, had said too many things that they could never, and likely would never, take back. It was an especially difficult dialogue because most of us had just completed three years at James E. Rogers College of Law – where we learned to fight for justice (understanding that one woman’s justice is another’s injustice). As lawyers, no one backed down, or conceded, or misspoke. We were all right, all the time. We stood our ground in mud, and in rising waters, and often totally alone.
I turned a sickly green upon seeing so many Tucson-grown lawyers debating an issue that affects the African-American community so deeply. For five years, I felt as if African-American social issues did not exist in Arizona. African-Americans account for a small percentage of Tucson’s, and Arizona’s, overall population; I thought, “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” I marched for AIDS, and I marched for women. I marched for Palestine, and I marched for the LGBT community. I marched, and wrote, and filmed for Mexican immigrants. When I marched for me, I mostly saw people that looked like me – that small percentage. So, I took special notice of the number, and names, of people who had strong opinions about Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the "trial of the millennium."
As a slowly budding criminal defense lawyer, I fought tooth and nail, for years, against my soon-to-be-prosecutor cohorts. But during this trial, for many, roles reversed. This unprovoked, yet prowling prosecutorial pack called a dead teen a thug, gangster, punk, and called the gun-toting defendant a hero. But this was just the first straw, not the final one. I had had it once I read post after post and article after article that discounted the feelings, ranting, and writing of anyone who had not seen the entire trial, who was not an attorney, or who was not on the jury. Insert meme that cleverly states, “you missed the entire point” here.
First, I encourage anyone to state their opinion, even an uninformed opinion, and even without a six-figure education. Second, this trial was more than just a trial. This catastrophe was about Oscar Grant, gun control, Stand Your Ground laws, 1.1 million incarcerated African-Americans that did not have the benefit of a seven-figure donated defense team, and a divided nation that was far more lighter-skins versus darker-skins than we want to admit. So, what am I going to do? I hosted two podcasts about the Trayvon Martin trial; I debated on Facebook. What can I really do?
I realize now that only positivity can affect positively, so I started #BeyondtheSkin. #BeyondtheSkin is a Facebook group that allows members to post a picture of the black men in their lives, along with five sentences that tell their stories of familial love, academic excellence, and career accomplishments. Studies and surveys show that Americans still see dark skin as bad, and especially when that skin is accompanied by jewelry, baggy pants, tattoos, or loud music. But clothing and accessories do not determine content of character. As long as we fear men with dark skin, we will continue to shoot first, regardless of the circumstances.
Statistically, African-American males commit as much crime as every other group of males; they pose no special or additional danger. Hopefully, as people browse #BeyondtheSkin, they will begin to experience African-American males as Americans, neighbors, brothers and fathers, and not the other.