Like most of the plugged-in world, I awaited news of the Zimmerman verdict. At first I was stunned by his acquittal, then sickened, and like all such shocks, that bitter emotion lodged itself into my fiber and I felt an ache all over. I followed the trial coverage peripherally due to my naive sense this would be an easy decision; after all Zimmerman was found standing over Trayvon’s lifeless body, smoking gun in hand, and volunteered his confession of murder. It is only in the aftermath of the shameful verdict that I became aware of the NRA’s role and Florida’s ALEC funded “Stand Your Ground” law in this case.
I am not 100% sure what I can offer the conversation that is erupting all over our social media from Twitter feeds to the New York Times, but I am haunted by the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Perhaps it is time, even for non-politicos like me, to join the sticky and uncomfortable conversation about guns and violence and just talk about how our children might stay safe enough to grow up.
During an early morning beach walk last April my brother told me about an idea stirring in him every since Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother, 20 children and 6 staff members and then himself in Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012. As we walked my brother explained his idea. Everyone, everywhere, would lay their guns down for one day: keep their guns in their locked cabinets, no cleaning, no firing, no guns used by private citizens for any reason. His vision extended to our big and small screens: no display of guns or gun violence on any TV show or theater film. Writers’ would be creatively challenged, and as we strolled along the water’s edge we imagined the rush of newness broadcast on that one day. His hope extended to radio stations that wouldn’t play songs with references to guns. He even had a name for this day: Guns Down. He thought, we might begin to honor those innocent Newtown victims on the anniversary of their death by declaring a national Guns Down Day.
My brother’s idea was met with great enthusiasm by me, by our family, by his colleagues and friends. He was encouraged to write emails to various business associates he had and after much crafting he sent out hopeful missives. When I questioned him in June he still knew it was an idea that had great appeal, but sadly felt only to those without guns, to those of us who would not pick one up to begin with, to those of us who aren’t playing vigilante or racial profiling young men and most definitely not members of the NRA. Our guns are already down. But the response beyond this small pool was silence. He hadn’t heard anything from anyone. His idea, which is ultimately only about creating an awareness of gun related violence, now lay as lifeless as the “roughly 18,285 people who have died from guns in the United States since the Newtown shootings” (Slate).
So what to do now? “Is there anyplace safe enough, or any cargo innocent enough, for a black man in this country? Martin was where he was supposed to be — in a gated community — carrying candy and a canned drink” (Blow). As this is true for a person of color and especially for a young black male, the tragedy in Newtown CT (and the Boston Marathon) prove we are all potential victims of violence. Clearly, there can be no more room for indifference.
“The killing of Trayvon Martin is not just about race, it’s also about the regulation of guns in this country. We turn now to look at Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Under the Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has been copied in some form by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it’s possible. While George Zimmerman’s attorneys did not use the Strand Your Ground defense, the Florida law impacted the instructions to the jury” (Goodman).
The NRA is celebrating the Zimmerman verdict as a financial triumph for their vast corporate empire cloaked in patriotism. “During the NRA gathering, he [Wayne LaPierre, NRA Executive Vice President] called the news media “a national disgrace.” LaPierre said violent crime is an everyday fact of life in every American city” (The Associated Press). Well, yes Mr. LaPierre, but do you think the proliferation of your guns in our lives might contribute to the violence?
“The events of the past month are a wake-up call for Americans, a teachable moment, that voter apathy has dire consequences for the people regardless of their demographic makeup. ALEC and the NRA are driving Republican extremism that restricts a woman’s right to choose their reproductive health, prevents Americans from exercising their Constitutional right to vote, and jeopardizes young people of color’s lives to be in a place they are legally allowed to be” (Rmuse).
A discussion of getting out to vote does not seem a strong enough response right now to the tragic murder of 17 year old Martin, but it was a strategy used very effectively by both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to crumble walls that stood forever. Can we simple citizens now Stand Our Ground without a gun but with a ballot in our hands to create a place where your sons and mine can meander home in safety? A day where we put our Guns Down? For, after all is said and done, We are All Trayvon Martin.
*Guns Down Day will only happen if we all make it happen. Please join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter and help spread the word!