When it comes to the Trayvon Martin case, I’m not exactly sure where to begin. It’s exhausting to think about the series of events leading to Zimmerman’s arrest, the case history, trial, acquittal, protests, pundit wrangling, and what may come next. What I do know for certain is that there are two families that will never be the same, and one I more closely identify with. That’s because I am the mother of two, a daughter and a son. By God’s grace my son has reached the age of majority, 21.
While I’m grateful for that rite of passage, for me, as I’m sure other black mothers can attest, Trayvon Martin’s death was a blatant reminder of what we’d like to forget. That it’s difficult for a young black man to become an old one in America.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s latest report the Leading Causes of Death in Males (2009), in the United States, the death rate of African-American males between the ages of 15 and 34 years old is 44%. It’s frightening to think that it is a near 50/50 proposition that a black man won’t live past the age of 34. Worst still, homicide accounts for 50.4% of all deaths of black males between the ages of 15 -19 years old compared to 10.9% for 15-19 white males.
So let’s look at Connecticut, with a population that is approximately 71% White, 13% Hispanic, 9% Black , and 4% Asian. The Connecticut Department of Public Health’s 5-year Age Adjusted Mortality Table (2006-2010) tells this story: of the 484 male deaths due to homicide, 258 black males accounted for more than 50% of the total. For the same period, 148 Hispanic males, 93 Caucasian males, and 5 Asian males were included in the total. The majority of these homicides were due to firearms.
The Health Department estimates the loss of potential life for those black males during that period alone was 605.8 years. If that doesn’t convince you that for black males, premature death due to homicide is a health risk, I don’t know what will. On the whole gun violence is a major factor in premature death for all segments of the population, and the increasingly younger age at which victims are affected should cause alarm regardless of race.
That being said, I would be avoiding the issue if I didn’t at least consider if race could be equal to co-morbidity when it comes to homicide. The public awareness of Trayvon Martin’s homicide cast light on gun violence that happens too often to black males in America. For many, perhaps for the first time, it was hard not to see that prevailing inequities in the social determinants of health and justice produce predictable outcomes.
Until we provide education that leads to cultural understanding and human respect, and take action to dismantle systems that promote disparate treatment based on ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation, we all carry loaded guns. Are you packin’?