By Steve Brown
Over the last few weeks, I’ve engaged in countless discussions about the incidents surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder. On Facebook, message boards or on local television, I’ve debated numerous apologists who would go to extraordinary lengths to defend George Zimmerman.
Despite not knowing all the facts surrounding this case, one thing is certain, Trayvon is dead and Zimmerman killed him. What we do know is that someone who lacks the experience, training or authority to initiate contact with an unarmed boy did so. Regardless of his intent, the end result was the death of Trayvon.
Whether out of poor judgment, or worse, the intent to kill, Zimmerman had no business confronting Trayvon.
Trying to understand why people would so intently defend him has led me to believe that these people have probably never been profiled themselves. They’ve never been followed in their neighborhood, or stopped by police for no other reason than being somewhere that they presumably shouldn’t be. That reality makes the Trayvon Martin case intimately personal to a number of African Americans. We can all instantly relate to the unspoken dynamics of this case where others may not.
I have tried to understand the arguments of Zimmerman’s apologists. They claim that we don’t have all the facts yet. True. That African American men are killed every day, but there are no rallies for those victims. True. That there is a culture of “gangsterism” in African American communities that’s gone unchecked for generations, and that Trayvon fell victim to the transgressions of others. Perhaps.
With that I’m reminded about the other Stephen K. Brown. The young man from Florida who for the past decade has been an outlaw and fugitive of the law. To make matters worse, that Stephen, an African American, was born the exact same day that I was.
I learned about the other Stephen on a late Sunday night in 1999 driving back to Austin where I worked in the State Legislature. I was speeding outside of Giddings, and was pulled over by a local police officer. After being detained for over thirty minutes, I was informed of my “alter ego”. The other Stephen weighed about 30lbs more than me, so eventually the police officer came to the conclusion that our identities were but an interesting coincidence. There may have been two or three other moments since where I’ve been confused for the other Stephen. In each occasion, however, reasonable professionals were able to come to the conclusion that I was only guilty of a minor traffic violation.
I understand the suspicion of African American youth, and I get that our community bears some burden for re-branding our image and culture. I also understand that we need to do a better job policing our own neighborhoods, and advocate against black on black crime with the same passion with which we’ve spoken out about this case.
In the end, though, the difference between suspicions about me and of Trayvon is that mine was handled by professionals trained to engage in a potentially violent situation. Zimmerman had no such training. He was told by an emergency dispatcher that he did not have the authority to pursue Trayvon, yet he did it anyway. There’s just no excusing that.
Steve Brown is the Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party.