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Walking while black

Marian Wright Edelman | 3/28/2012, 7:40 a.m.

The fear in Martin’s death is that this is exactly what has happened so far: that the story told by witnesses, phone records, and Zimmerman’s violent past and earlier complaints during his neighborhood patrols shows an overzealous armed aggressor who followed Martin even after police told him to stop, chased Martin down when the frightened boy tried to walk away from the stranger following him, and then shot the unarmed, 100-pounds-lighter teenager while neighbors said they heard a child crying for help. The prospect now that Zimmerman might never set foot in a courtroom for the shooting has caused widespread frustration and fury.

Unfortunately, Martin’s death was not unique. In 2008 and 2009, 2,582 black children and teens were killed by gunfire. Black children and teens were only 15 percent of the child population, but 45 percent of the 5,740 child and teen gun deaths in those two years. Black males 15 to 19 years old were eight times as likely as white males to be gun homicide victims.

The outcry over Martin’s death is absolutely right and just. We need the same sense of outrage over every one of these child deaths. Above all, we need a nation where these senseless deaths no longer happen. But we won’t get it until we have common-sense gun laws that protect children instead of guns and don’t allow people like Zimmerman to take the law into their own hands.

We won’t get it until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and “no good” because of the color of their skin — or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain.

And we won’t get it until enough of us — parents and grandparents — stand up and tell our political leaders that the National Rifle Association should not be in charge of our neighborhoods, streets, gun laws, and values.

In Martin’s case, his father Tracy speaks for what his family needs: “The family is calling for justice. We don’t want our son’s death to be in vain.” I hope that enough voices will ensure that it is not.


Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.