Walter Mosley on Trayvon Martin Case and Racial Identity
Pretty far back in the 20th century, when the American government was waging an immoral war on Vietnam and conducting illegal campaigns against Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, along with supporting unfair practices against everyone from Native Americans to women to migrant farm workers—back then I used to get stopped by the police on a regular basis.
I remember one time I was walking down this lonely road with a white friend. We both had long hair and were feeling no pain. It was nighttime, and the desert air felt good to us. A police cruiser pulled up out of nowhere, it seemed. A big policeman got out and pointed his pistol at my groin. He said, “Why did you break into that building over there?”
What was I supposed to say? My father always told me, “Never argue with a man with a gun.” Never argue with a policeman, for that matter.
I claimed innocence while imagining explosive castration.
My friend calmly said that he attended the nearby college and that we had been together all night. He didn’t show any ID nor did he say what we had been doing. But he was white and that was that. The police left us alone, and I, still feeling pretty good, continued on my walk with my friend.
That was 42 years ago. It wasn’t the last time I was stopped. It wasn’t the last time I had a gun pulled on me. I have never carried a gun.
It seems like a lot has changed since way back then.
Back then the case of a young black man getting gunned down on the streets of America would not, as a rule, have made the national news. This, I suppose, is a hopeful sign, an indication that even a young so-called black man can be considered to have rights, and might, in some rare moments, take the role of victim in the eyes of the omnipresent (but not omniscient) media.
Back then the governor of a Southern state would not have talked about seeking justice for some nonwhite teenager walking the streets of a gated community. This too, on the surface, seems like the kind of social change one would expect in a nation that has so recently elected its first nonwhite president.