Trayvon Martin and the Hoodies

The Washington Post updates the story of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida with an interview with Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.

Family picture of Trayvon Martin“Martin and Fulton said they are moved by the outpouring of support from people across the nation. They said they were particularly touched by  the actions of Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who on Wednesday donned a gray hoodie and sunglasses and spoke from the floor of the House of Representatives about the need for a full investigation of the death.

“I applaud the young people all across the land who are making a statement about hoodies, about the real hoodlums in this nation, specifically those who tread on our law wearing official or quasi-official cloaks,” Rush said on the House floor.

“Racial profiling has got to stop,” he said. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”

As he spoke those words, he removed his suit jacket and lifted the hood over his head. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), presiding over the floor as Rush delivered his remarks, began to gavel almost immediately. Shouting over Rush, who began to recite Bible verses, Harper said the congressman was out of order for donning the hood. Rules bar House members from wearing hats in the chamber. Rush was then escorted from the floor.

Race and hoods in America never go away. Hoodies have a long history. Sometimes those who wear the hoods wear them by choice; sometimes the hoods are put over their heads. Occasionally those who wear them are ushered out while they recite Bible verses…or sing a hymn, like the 38 Dakota men hanged in a mass execution following “the Sioux Uprising,” as they called it then in 1862, at  Mankato, Minnesota.

Douglas A. Lindner provided this eye-witness account in The Dakota Conflict Trials:

In Mankato, at ten o’clock on December 26, thirty-eight (one person was reprieved between the date of Lincoln’s order and the execution) prisoners wearing white muslin coverings and singing Dakota death songs were led to gallows in a circular scaffold and took the places assigned to them on the platform.  Ropes were placed around each of the thirty-eight necks.  At the signal of three drumbeats, a single blow from an ax cut the rope that held the platform and the prisoners (except for one whose rope had broke, and who consequently had to be restrung) fell to their deaths.  A loud cheer went up from the thousands of spectators gathered to witness the event. The bodies were buried in a mass grave on the edge of town.  Soon area doctors, including one named Mayo, arrived to collect cadavers for their medical research

Last night a Lakota friend filled out the story. According to Wally Ripplinger, the men on the gallows were singing a Dakota hymn, as they had done throughout the day. They were singing in unison, under their hoods, of their impending release into Paradise. It might have sounded something like this. Click below to listen.

I cast my vote with the Dakota and Lakota singers, Trayvon Martin, the lynched victims of hooded Klansmen, and the rebellion leader (mis-labeled by tradition as “the thief” – he was not a thief!) executed along with Jesus, who heard the words of divine mercy that would be remembered long after a Roman public execution: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

10 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin and the Hoodies

  1. BTW, I have attended and participated in American Indian wakes and funerals on the Pine Ridge Res in SD. Lakota people live there, the Oglala Sioux Tribe to be specific. I’ll tell you about one:

    The wakes and funerals are very spiritual and powerful affairs. They take much more time than the average white funeral. Time is not relevant. Honoring the deceased and supporting the family is relevant.

    The burial was especially moving. It’s very earthy and real. There is a pile of dirt next to the grave. The coffin, a plain plywood box, is lowered into the ground with ropes by the young men of the village. The funeral director jumps in and hammers the lid down, then his part is done.

    Shovels appear and the middle aged and younger men put dirt on top of the coffin. It’s a silent rite, so the thudding of clods on the plywood lid is loud. A bottle of water appears and is quickly passed among the shovelers. When one tires, another one takes his place. There are always extra shovelers.

    I was there with a group of young white classmates from seminary. We had participated in the wake and funeral by singing, a treasured gift. We were observing the ritual shoveling when one of the shovelers turned to the young men of our group and handed one a shovel. He took it and quickly joined the shovelers with his effort. The same happened to another young white man. When the water bottle was silently passed around again they were included. It reminded me of sharing communion wine and bread.

    When the grave was entirely filled, with dirt heaped over, the old men did their part. With trowels and shovels, but mostly bare hands, they shaped the pile of dirt. Without speaking, they carefully shaped it into a long peak, using their hands to smooth out bumps and irregularities.

    After the old men stepped away, the women came forward. They arranged flowers and meaningful small objects on top of the grave in a pleasing symmetry. It was very colorful and final.

    Someone pointed up and we all looked. A couple of eagles circled lazily in the clear blue sky above us. Eyes met among the Indian people. There were many nods and grunts of understanding and approval at the sacred sign of eagles. It was good.

    (I want to incorporate much of that into my funeral. I plan to be cremated and buried in a small country cemetery in the Black Hills. The cemetery has no rules about plots and decorations, head stones or signs. The ground is not mowed, fertilized, or maintained. It is grass in an open meadow. Dear and elk graze there. Bears and cougars wander through. I want my loved ones to take my ashes there and bury them, using whatever rite seems fitting to them and their needs. It will be good.)


    • Oh my, such a moving description of a kind of earthy reverence we rarely see. “When the water bottle was silently passed around again they were included. It reminded me of sharing communion wine and bread.” I copied that line before I read the other wonderful sentences, equally powerful, equally insightful. We have so much to learn from the Lakota. “There were many nods and grunts of understanding and approval at the sacred sign of eagles. It was good.” I confess that my skeptical self is slow to accept this mystery.My bad. Their good. Yours too, HMB. Love your choice of a burial place.


  2. Yes, these things are heartbreaking. I have been thinking about Cuba in a similar manner to what you’ve said, but you’ve added so much more information. I have been wondering if perhaps Cuba does have the better of it.

    America, capitalism, Christianity — all bastardized beyond recognition.

    It’s all heartbreaking, and I cannot dwell on it too long without my spirit descending to a very painful place. I must, we all must remain in the fight in whatever manner we can, until we come to our time in Paradise.


  3. I can hardly contain my horror, and my admiration for your piece here. As for hoodies, it brings me to the self-defense argument. We don’t know the particulars in the Trayvon Martin case, but I do know that research indicates that young black men are seen as threats just by virtue of being black. If feeling threatened gives us excuse to shoot, then I believe it amounts to war on black men.

    Remember Arsenio Hall’s Humorous description of passing a white woman as he headed toward the lavatory on the train. She instinctively pulled her handbag closer to her. “What did she think I’d do?” he asked “run up and down the aisle with it until the plane landed” Humor, of course, but humor based on sad fact.

    Have you seen the segment on CNN with black mothers describing “the talk” they have with their teenage sons, advising them on how to be safe if confronted? Be polite. Don’t fight back. Don’t argue. Keep calm. In other words, give no incentive for violence. And on the other side is the fact of racism reflected in instinctive fear of those walking or driving while black.

    If I say anything more I’ll be ranting. Thanks, Gordon, for your perpetual courage.


    • I haven’t seen the CNN piece and am intrigued by it. This is every African-American mother’s worst fear. Racial profiling took place without officers giving it a second thought until they black professionals who were pulled over stood their ground and challenged the practice. When a squad car tails a black judge and pulls him over for no good reason, the officer has just managed to place a public spotlight on racial profiling.

      Today’s news about the alleged killer, George Zimmerman, raises serious doubts about this as a case of racism. We have to wait and see what comes from the trial. But, whatever the motive, it was another black teenager dropped by a bullet on the street. It makes little difference, i think, whether it was a bullet fired by an officer or by an armed neighborhood watch member. We used to call the latter vigilantes. Trayvon Martin was unarmed. He joins the growing list of young men who have lost their lives to gun violence.


      • More than a week ago, I began to wonder whether Zimmerman’s motivations in this shooting came from a racist attitude or from his continuing attempts to elevate his importance to his neighborhood by trying to be a ‘hero’. Both are awful to contemplate.

        What always felt racist to me, was the callous way the authorities ‘assured’ everyone that the shooting was justfied and they wouldn’t be making an arrest. It felt strange that they wouldn’t say they were continuing to investigate this fatal shooting thoroughly to determine how it happened and make a decision on the need to press charges. Why did they think their original statement to the public made sense?

        It saddens me when some perceive the current reaction of the black community as racist. With our collective history in the US, our memories, and (as you mentioned above about our young men) our need to adjust behavior in demoralizing ways in order to survive, our current feelings should be understood whether it turns out they are slightly misguided in this specific case or not. Our grief and desire that this case be investigated properly shouldn’t be used against us by those who need to believe that our society is now completely equal for all, which it isn’t. I have to believe true equality is coming, but it isn’t here yet. I hate being called a racist because I dare to speak out loud. Actually, that hurts.


      • So insightful, well-articulated, thoughtful, historically-informed, hopeful. Thank you. What’s needed here is a full, impartial investigation. Until that is done, people experienced in this history will have no reason to believe that this young man was not murdered because he was black or because the shooter, an Hispanic, wanted to be a hero in the neighborhood. Whatever the motivation…and who of us really knows…the result is the same. It looks very much like vigilante justice – the unauthorized groups that took the law into their own hands with a tree and a hangman’s noose.

        Thank you, Sparks, for helping us to think this through more carefully.


  4. Seems every story, has an under story that we usually do not hear… such as the thief at the crucifixion… each story reported has its assumptions. What does that say for us?????


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