Sign of the times


“Zimmerman must die.”  I live in a predominantly black neighborhood in D.C., a few blocks north of Howard University.  My neighborhood is vibrant, home to a number of Afro-centric stores, vegan restaurants run by African Israelites, and sundry stores that serve Howard students. It is generally peaceful. Neighbors are friendly with one another. Old men give my children candy.There is a mix of people from different races and classes  People look out for each other.

My daughter attends preschool across the street from Howard and so I walk her to school every morning down the main drag.  Yesterday morning, I saw this sign, a sign I have noted for weeks because it has a White hand and a Brown hand each cradling a Samsung Galaxy Note and the sign tells you to “take note!”  But yesterday, what I noted were these words.

“Zimmerman must die”.  What else could the sign say?  “Justice for Trayvon!”  “Arrest Zimmerman NOW!”.  For weeks now, I have been sensing a shift in the vibes in my neighborhood.  I have always been a sensitive sort of person, highly attuned to the moods of people around me.  This is why I became a community psychologist, because I believe that communities have their own moods, ups and downs, and struggles.  “Zimmerman must die.”  Like a dream rising up from the subconscious mind of this neighborhood.  While public faces don hoodies of support and make plans for marches. “Zimmerman must die” seeps silently onto a  billboard –  itself a sign of gentrification – like words written in blood by a horror movie poltergeist.

I see it in the early afternoons at the playground with my kids. We used to be there alone.  Now, young Black and Latino men gather in clumps, drinking beer and smoking weed.  Clearly, they have not felt the economy improve.  But I am sure they see the march of the gentrifiers continuing around them: new restaurants opening in the neighborhood, new condo buildings being built. They are at the playground drinking beer because none of this means jobs for them. “Zimmerman must die.”

And where do I stand?  I live in one of those condo buildings. I patronize those new restaurants. I have no jobs to offer.  I ask the young men to move their drinking and swearing to another part of the park, away from the slides and the jungle gym. It’s not that I disapprove.  What else are they supposed to do?  But my children need to play, and I know that underneath their somber expressions, something is bubbling inside these young men.  I do not want my children to be hit by shrapnel when those bombs go off. “Zimmerman must die.”

The lumpy, messy stew that is America, is beginning to boil.  People are remembering the Trayvon’s in their own communities. Overt racism rears it’s ugly head after a few decades of sneaking and skulking in the dark. Folks are angry for good reason.  I fear the coming of a hot summer.  History tells us that this is when the race riots begin.

We must all pay attention right now.  We must all raise ourselves up to a higher level of consciousness.  We must deliberately uproot the ugliness of internalized racism that lies within each one of us.  This is not just a White and Black problem. Monica Novoa has a great article in Colorlines discussing the need for White people and people of color to face up to that fact

Moments like this can make that happen.  Like nuclear energy, we can use it to power the world. “Zimmerman Must Die” can remain a nightmare from which we awaken and begin a new day.



  1. Jackie said,

    April 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    So much is tangled together when we talk about race (and when we refuse to talk about race), but you’ve done a beautiful job of showing how many threads are woven together, and how each one tugs at us in different ways. I have friends who are teachers in Florida, and I know they are having such difficult conversations with their students these days; we’ve had some here at my school too.

    • April 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Difficult conversations are the only way this has any chance of leading anywhere good. I am glad to know there are teachers willing to have them.

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