About three weeks ago on July 14, I acknowledged my 43rd birthday.
I say acknowledged instead of celebrated because for several years now my birthday has become a time of reflection, not celebration. Birthdays are very special to me, but for the past three years my birthday has been a bit muted. July 14 will never be the same for me.
You see, I share my birthday with at least 25 people that I know personally, but there was one person with whom I shared my birthday who was one of my closest friends, Tyrone Thompson. I speak about Tyrone – or Ty as those closest to him called him – in past tense because Ty is no longer with us. In the late night hours of June 5, 2010 Ty was gunned down during an attempted carjacking in a northern suburb of St. Louis.
Ty wasn’t a typical homicide victim. But then again he was.
Ty was a former municipal police chief from a prominent St. Louis area family. He and his sister owned a popular nightclub. He worked under his brother at Kwame Construction, an international construction firm, and Ty coordinated the company’s annual scholarship golf tournament. Like I said, not your typical homicide victim.
But Ty was your typical homicide victim because Ty was an African-American male … typical homicide victim.
While according to the most recent census, African-Americans make up 13.6 percent of the population yet in 2011, according to the FBI; African-Americans accounted for half of all murder victims in the nation that year.
For the past three years on July 14 I have observed a uniquely African-American tradition of pouring out some liquor for Ty – “this is for the ones who ain’t here.” But this most recent July 14 was even more somber of a day for me … and for many African Americans.
Just hours earlier on July 13, a Florida jury of 6 women – none African American – said self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman was not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In essence, the jury said though Trayvon was unarmed and minding his own business, Zimmerman was well within his right to kill Trayvon because just being a black man in America is enough of a threat to warrant using deadly force.
Every day I step out of my house, I walk out knowing that I’m in the unenviable position of being both the potential suspect and potential victim. And you wonder why so many black men suffer from high blood pressure. The stress has to be felt by black women too because every time their child, husband, boyfriend or brother exits the home, they are a target. They are targeted by other black men (and in far too many cases, children – the two who killed Ty were just 18), they are targeted by the police and now they are targeted by any non-black with an itchy trigger finger. Hopefully Zimmerman doesn’t get the itch again, as he’s out and about fully armed.
Many are calling for a boycott of Florida to repeal its shoot first, “Stand Your Ground” law that was used to acquit Zimmerman – yet did nothing to help Marissa Alexander, who got 20 years for firing a warning shot, but more than half the states in the U.S. have similar laws on the books. Conversely, few (besides me) are calling on the boycott of Chicago, which as a city government seems to not care about the jaw-dropping murder rate as long as the killings are contained in poorer, black and Latino neighborhoods.
But hey, we have a black president, so everything’s A-OK, right? Tell that to Ty and Trayvon and the thousands of other black male murder victims who die every year. Tell that to Marissa Alexander.