One of my friends sat on a jury for a murder once. After the trial was over, they shared with me that the lawyers just didn’t do it right. Beyond a reasonable doubt was not presented and because there was doubt as the moronic lawyers fumbled through the trial. It was apparent that the event took place as it had been presented and yet there was still a reasonable doubt. I wasn’t in the court room, but from what I saw of the case the lawyers looked like fumbling idiots for Trayvon.
I taught kids that dressed like Trayvon all the time by the hundreds. Armed with a hoodie and a snack. Sure they walked like thugs, sounded like thugs, but really many of them are just babies. Their outer shell of defense and armor is how they survive and a hoodie has been a major trend over the last decade. I taught middle school in an economically struggling, racially diverse, and challenging school. Every morning as they came in the door we would say, “Time for the hoodie to go down.” The children would reluctantly pull the hood from their head. Their eyes tired and hair a mess and hoping that this would be the day they would make it to homeroom without having to be told to take it off. The girl whose parents shaved her head because of lice and she was so ashamed to have to remove it from her head. The boy who wasn’t quite ready to admit he had hickeys all over his neck from his adolescent exploration. These hoodies much larger than their bodies, for the most part, are where they find solace and security much like a shell for a turtle.
Inside their armor of hoodies are just children. They may say things that make you think otherwise. They may seem like these tough and rough kids, but really they are just inside their shell and setting themselves up to deal with their reality. Their reality is one many adults cannot say they have faced. They face poverty and diverse family structures- parents who work hard to just make ends meet to parents who are incarcerated, yell at them or beat them. Even those children not in poverty were only surrounded by those who were in it and struggled to fit in and would wear the same armor and learned how to use it. It was rare to find two parents that were married before they had the child, who went to anything beyond high school, or who were still married while their child was in 7th grade. They deal with inner city gang violence and pressure. Then just general peer bullying and media pressure. The list goes on into things that “when I was in school” didn’t really exist to this extreme.
Trayvon is sadly an example and proof that their livelihood faces uncertainty and it occurs all over the country every day. A lot of times it is one hooded kid to another, but if you think the parents haven’t already talked to their kids about injustice and racial inequality you are sadly naive. Some of the kids I taught by 7th grade already had a chip on their shoulder and outward defense to their fear to being treated as less. As a white female teacher, I felt this most from the African American female students. Oh how I just wanted to squeeze them so tight until they just released all of it knowing that I loved them no matter the color of their skin and their defense towards me was unwarranted. Some people deserved that defense and they are the ones who chipped the shoulder to begin with and it’s painful to watch as the damage happens when they are already so young. It’s also not just about race for the hoodie brigade. Many of my hooded children were actually caucasian…then even hispanics and asians. Their reality is about neighborhoods, financial status, dealing with their family, and even just where they live- the physical, probably dilapidated, home, housing project or even shelter.
I’m not sure if we will ever know what exchange really occurred that night between Martin and Zimmerman. Did Martin act like a punk and say things that would make him seem dangerous? As a turtle threatening from his shell towards the pestering dog that wont leave it alone and says, “I’m going to duck and cover over here, but I’ve got a grenade and I’m not afraid to use it.” Regardless, Zimmerman was armed and it seems preposterous and maybe it wasn’t Trayvon, but some other hooded kid and a true thug that frightened Zimmerman previously. Maybe Zimmerman is like many who will read this and are frightened by the hooded kids in the night. Sometimes I’m sure it is a threat a real one from a kid with a gun, because some of these kids do have guns. I know it for a fact and that’s a real thing too, but most of them no… maybe a brush, a house key on a string, a snack, their cell phone or if you’re lucky a pencil and their folded up history homework. If Zimmerman truly felt threatened he should have returned to his home and phoned the police after locking his door and grabbed his gun incase of an attack from a real hooded gang armed with guns.
I remember once a hooded child walking the halls and you could see in his jerking peppy step that he was filled with rage. He paced the hall around in a circle and did not listen to the faculty as he walked and paced and refused to pull down the hoodie. He walked into my classroom, paced and slammed his body into his assigned seat shoving his face down on the desk just as my class began. I could feel the heat and steam from his anger pulsating from his hooded shell. I didn’t ask him to take off his hoodie. I let him have a moment while all the students are waiting for me to respond to his insubordinate behavior. I started the lesson, got the students working on something and I quietly walked over and softly pulled the dark black edge of the hoodie to peer in at his brown skin, his big brown eyes and the tears streaming down his face. He says, “Please, Mrs. B…. Don’t make me take it off. I don’t want them to see me cry. Mr.— made me so mad. I’m so angry and I know you want me to work on my temper. Someone stole my workbook for your class and I was almost done with it. I worked so hard on it for months and it’s gone. Mr.— wouldn’t help me find it and released us from class so I will never know who took it.” My response was, “You have a few minutes to get it together (one hand on his arm and another on his shoulder) and then we will move on. We will find your workbook and it will be okay. I promise.” A few moments passed and he quietly removed his hoodie and completed his work. Later that day, somewhere on the other side of the room his workbook magically reappeared and life went on. I could have intensified the fight. I could have written him up and written him off for his insubordination. I did not. Did he hurt anyone? No. Did he threaten anyone? No. Was he angry about something real and not a thug thing? Yes. Did he curse? No. Was he insubordinate in refusing to take off his hooded shell? Yes. Was his hoodie a safe haven for him? Yes and most often you will find that these children feel naked without their hoodie. Their tiny bodies (some not so tiny) exposed to the elements of their reality. It is an adolescent security blanket.
The particular student in my story, facing much adversity in his life, graduated from high school this year. I am so proud of him. Tears were streaming down my face this time. I pretty much cried the whole time I attended the graduation this spring but this was the e-mail I received from one of the graduating class of my example student- “Mrs. B…. I just wanted to let you know that I graduated High School last night. I just wanted to thank you for being such a great teacher to me in Middle School. It paid off.”
I have asked myself often- Could Trayvon have been one of my babies a.k.a. students? Yes, most certainly he could have been. So I hurt for Trayvon, his family, his friends and his teachers. I hurt for the ones that knew that even though he might have yelled “Grenade!” from his shell, while he was most likely very afraid of Zimmerman, he was just a child armed with a snack.
Where do we go from here? I would say three things. 1. If you are a child armed with a hoodie. You realize that many wear it to intimidate others and realize that the power of that intimidation can be helpful and dangerous for yourself. If you are afraid of someone who is watching you… you also have the right to call the police. 2. If you are an adult afraid of children in hoodies. Please, I urge you to find the closest challenged middle school in your area and volunteer. Speak with love and understanding. It may be the only place they find it. We must work to bridge the gap of our cultures and generations. 3. If you spot a suspicious person in a hoodie realize they may be just afraid of you as you are of them. Call the police because things may be warranted, but most of the time…. I just see scared little turtles.