Trayvon Martin: Echoes of a Brother's Shooting

In the wake of Trayvon Martin's brutal death, Donna Britt has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post about her brother, who was shot and killed by police officers three decades ago.

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Darrell with his grandmother, brothers and sister, Donna, far right (Little, Brown and Co.)

In the wake of Trayvon Martin's brutal death, Donna Britt has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post about her brother, who was shot and killed by police officers three decades ago in Gary, Ind. The cases are hauntingly similar. 

The unavoidable question -- Which image is accurate? -- is especially difficult when you’re discussing a malleable and evolving 17-year-old. Yet the follow-up question may be even more challenging: Does it matter?

For years, I was so beset by intolerable questions that I avoided thinking about the mysteries of the ditch where Darrell fell, clinging to what I was absolutely sure of: what Darrell was to me. An affirming presence, a thoughtful listener and my childhood hero; he was so affable, I can’t recall ever arguing with him. And he was so convulsively funny that no one questioned his goal of becoming a famous comic. That this popular, athletic kid somehow adored me suggested that another great guy might one day love me. He was perfect.

Yet the ditch was there to whisper otherwise.

For decades, I weighed whether my wonderful brother could have behaved as the police described. I hadn’t grown up mistrusting cops; I’d assumed them to be decent people sworn to protect my community. How did these two officers see Darrell as so dangerous and, apparently, so dispensable that they would shoot to kill him?

They had to have seen something other than the brother I knew. I felt certain they saw black.

But the racism that limits people’s vision -- that targets individuals, stunts opportunities and even kills some -- wounds millions more in less visible ways. Knowing that certain people would assume I was inferior because I’m black, I worked overtime to prove them wrong. This drive wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t made me doubt my worth and worry that my departed brother may not have held up his end of the bargain by being imperfect. By being human.

Read Donna Britt's entire column at the Washington Post.

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