Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Letter to the Parents of Trayvon Martin

Dear Tracy and Sybrina,
I have never met you, and I probably never will.  My name is Leia Johnson, and I am married to a man named Scott.  We have two sons, ages six and three, named Will and Ben.
I read the story about your son, Trayvon, about one week before the national media began covering the story.  I can’t even tell you how I stumbled onto the story, but I read it several times through before shutting down my computer to go to bed.  With each reading, I kept searching for the details I missed--surely there had to be more to the story--and as I realized the truth of the story, that a child was murdered and the man who murdered him was still walking the streets, my gut started to churn.
I lay awake for nearly two hours, sorting through the details in my mind and getting angrier by the second.  
I cried.
And I prayed for you.  The article didn’t mention Trayvon’s parents, but I prayed for you anyway because I knew you had to exist, that you had to be somewhere in FL, mourning this monumental loss.  The first time I saw you, Tracy, in an interview, I cried again because there you were on my TV screen confirming that there was a human being experiencing the torture of losing a child.  As the story began to slowly unfold on the internet and TV, my feelings intensified, and I, along with the millions of Americans who have now become invested in your son’s story, waited to hear that justice was being carried out.
But it hasn’t been.
I was raised in OK by parents who taught me to love and accept all people.  When I was a child, racism was an abstract concept to me, something that I truly believed was mostly part of our history.  As I got older, I was more aware of an ingrained, covert racism that exists among educated people.  It took the form of racist jokes told in whispers.  I saw the shock that registered on some people’s faces when we talked about traveling to certain parts of town.  It is a kind of racism that feeds off unfair stereotypes, that relies on ignorance as a reliable source for justified assumption.  It is a polite and deeply dangerous racism.
My husband began his active duty Air Force career in 2003, and our first assignment out of pilot training was to Charleston, SC.  For the first time in my life, I saw obvious, ugly, overt racism.  And I was shocked.  
In one instance, while we were test-driving new cars, the salesman told my husband that a store we passed along the way was owned by niggers.  He said the word just as easily as if he was telling us the sky was blue, and the implication was that we should avoid shopping there because the store was inferior to white-owned stores.  This happened in 2005.
One morning in a Sunday school class at our church a couple of years later, I was part of a conversation with an older, educated woman who had lived her entire life in the south.  She made a point to say that the Bible actually never says slavery is wrong.  I was so appalled I didn’t even know how to respond.  I was shocked into silence, and it has haunted me ever since.
In reading the news reports each day about Trayvon, I have seen these mindless debates suggesting that this was not a race-based hate crime.  My life experience says otherwise.  George Zimmerman, your son’s murderer, was a disturbed individual.  The evidence of his 911 calls and erratic behavior point to a mental imbalance, but the fact that he shot a gun at an unarmed child speaks to the racism that I believe was ingrained in his psychology.  I also believe that he would have shot your son whether he was black or not because he was clearly unstable.

Several of my cousins serve in law enforcement in different states.  My best friend’s husband is a police officer.  I have the deepest respect for the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way daily, but there is this sense that if we question the police or disparage them in any way, we are being disrespectful.  This case has been so poorly handled by the police involved, it is almost impossible to believe the facts are true.  The police officers in this case have made monumental mistakes, and this is where Trayvon's race plays a huge role in my mind, and they need to be held accountable.  It is not disrespectful to speak the truth.  The mishandling borders on absurdity.  A friend of mine commented in regards to the police work that we are “not asking for a guilty verdict, just the chance for our justice system to run its any family deserves.”  So far, justice has not been served--sadly, it hasn’t even been attempted.
The Air Force moved us to Olympia, WA this year, and my sons, Will and Ben, wear hoodies every day because we have a lot of rain.  We have a jar on our kitchen counter of Skittles.  It’s what I reward them with when I “catch them being kind” to one another or for a special treat when we have family movie night.  After living the majority of their short lives thus far in the south, they are both fans of sweet tea.  Not a day has passed since I first learned about Trayvon’s death that I haven’t seen him in the faces of my children.
There is a difference, though.  The statistics tell me that my sons are more likely to go to college.  They are more likely to run corporations or become influential politicians.  They are less likely to go to prison.  How did my children come out on the right side of these statistics?  By being born white. 
Unfortunately, if justice is not pursued in this case, your son, Trayvon, will be a statistic.

Let me take a moment to apologize.  I am sorry that your son was murdered.  I am sorry that you have not been treated with the respect you deserve by law enforcement.  I am sorry that some people have chosen to use your son as a sensational story.

I am sorry.
I read one article in the New York Post, in which, you, Sybrina, were quoted as saying, “I’m not strong.  I’m a mother.”  And I will not be one of those people who tell you to be strong.  I am a mother, a good one like you, and I believe it would be completely acceptable for you to fall apart.  If there has ever been a time when people would understand any level of kicking and screaming and loss of control and weakness, it is now.
Know this, though: I believe that for every racist or simply insensitive person who is trying to turn your son’s death into a forgotten news story or excuse to spark debate on Facebook, there is a person who is thinking about your son and praying for your family.  Let us be strong for you.  Rely on us to be your strength in this time when no reasonable person would expect you to be strong.
There is a collective rage that is spreading like wildfire.  As more and more people hear the story, more and more people are motivated to see justice.  More and more people are staging rallies and signing petitions.  We are taking on your cause in the best ways we know how.  
We will never meet you, but we are here for you.  Because we, the mothers and fathers of America, recognize how you have been wronged by another human being and by a failing justice system.  We are not okay with this.  Despite what it feels like, as you are still waiting for justice after your son’s death, we are trying to make this right.

Much love to you,
Leia Johnson

(Dear readers, if you have not yet done so, please click the link included in this article and consider signing THIS PETITION.)


  1. Okay, I waited a couple days to read this because I knew it would be emotional for me. This is such a heartbreaking story. When you talked about the boys wearing hoodies and getting skittles for good behavior I lost it. I continue to pray for Trayvon's parents and for justice. Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for reading. I think about this multiple times a day, and I just keep getting angrier. What's done is done--I get that, but I hope this situation motivates people to rethink the way laws are written at the very least. I don't know what else to say.