I’ve blogged about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the criminalization of black males. The tragedy still weighs heavily on my mind, especially in light of the smear campaign launched against the slain teen. Author and colleague Alicia McCalla came up with the brilliant idea of writing a science fiction response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The following short story is my tribute to Trayvon and hunted black boys everywhere.
It was a deadly time to be 18, black and male. All across the country, these young outlaws were being killed. They yanked them from their cars and lynched them in Texas, stormed their homes and gassed them in Philadelphia and lay in wait for them outside of barber shops in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Lamar Martin was blessed with a baby face that belied his 17 years. He was short with plump cheeks and big ears, and his soft black eyes that witnessed daily carnage still bore a hopeful sheen. His friends, the two or three who remained, called him Junior even though his father’s name was Carl.
Lamar huddled beneath his hoodie as he hurried to the apartment he and his mother shared. It was almost time for dinner, and she was probably standing by the living room window, scanning the street until he returned. His eyes stung as he thought of the man he barely remembered. Lamar was a toddler when his father was killed. Carl had been holed up in a Methodist church on Manchester with twenty other teens when he was gunned down. Lamar didn’t think of his father often, but his looming execution date made him realize how stark indeed was the absence of maleness in his life.
One less person to mourn me, Lamar thought, running a hand over the scar on his forehead. There were no grandfathers, uncles or older male cousins for him to look up to. Most of the teens in his community became fathers at a young age. It wasn’t uncommon to see 13-year-old boys cradling wailing infants, even though they could ill afford babies and were still children themselves. But they wanted to leave some fleshy footprint before they were killed, some reminder that they had once rough-housed and loved and dreamed in this world.
A single gunshot blast shattered Lamar’s reverie, and he quickened his steps. Although gunfire rang through his neighborhood nightly, a frenzied curfew bell, he could never get used to it. Out of instinct, he tightened his hood, making sure the mass of keloids on his forehead wasn’t visible. Like every other black male in the country, he was branded, a grisly rite of passage. On his 17th birthday, as mandated by law, his mother was forced to take him down to the Office of Records. Lamar winced as he remembered the glowing red rod that seared his birth date into his forehead. 2.26.17. Instead of a driver’s license, instead of a party, he was inducted into a lethal lottery. His 18th birthday was still two weeks away, but some white men hunted black boys for sport as their execution date neared. The hunters knew they wouldn’t be prosecuted because it was hardly considered a crime to kill an animal bound for the slaughter.
“We could move to a sanctuary city in Europe or Africa,” his mother often said, wringing her hands as she always did at the thought of his pending death. But there was no money for a transcontinental relocation. She didn’t even own a passport and neither did Lamar. They’d never traveled outside a 30-mile radius of their Inglewood home. He’d heard tales of some teens who’d run off and formed communities in the woods in places like Palmdale and the San Bernardino Mountains. He wanted to run as well, but only if his mother would come with him. He couldn’t desert her. She was only 33, and there’d been too much loss in her young life already.
He looked up and saw her standing in the window of their second-story apartment. Her eyes were always worried now. Her grief was a physical thing that loomed in the hallways and crouched in the corners of their home, blotting out the light. Now she raised her hand and gave a faint smile, relieved that he had made it back from the store. Lamar returned the smile. Most black mothers he knew, those with living sons, were fearful of their own front door. They knew the sidewalks beyond were landmined, the street corners were booby trapped. Lamar fingered the package of candy in the jacket of his hoodie. He’d never celebrated his 17th birthday, but they would have a party tonight. A sugar high was just what he needed, filled with iced tea and candy. Consuming those sugary snacks would be enough, would provide all the sweetness that was denied him in the world.
The voice startled Lamar, and he left off fiddling with his snacks. He didn’t turn toward the source of that word, as much of a slur as the word “nigger.” Instead, he glanced back up at his mother. Her hand was still raised in greeting, but a pleading look replaced the relief in her eyes.
“Boy.” This time Lamar heard footfalls behind him. He was only a few yards from his apartment building, but his legs refused to run. He had done nothing wrong, had broken no laws.
I still have two weeks. Two weeks of living. Two weeks of freedom, but how free was he when he had to walk the streets with a hood shielding his face? They still broke you in the end. He thought of his father huddled at the altar of Grimes A.M.E. Church, beneath the sculpture of a sightless Jesus, his blood drenching the wine-red carpet of the sanctuary. But there was no sanctuary, not when you walked around with your sin spelled out in the blackened flesh of your forehead.
“What are you doing here, boy?”
Lamar lowered his hood, and turned to face the hunter.
For Trayvon Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012)