After the Verdict: Hug Your Sons

My son is just developing a sense of morals. What can I tell him about the boy who did nothing wrong?

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — I am in a deep, deep well of sadness and loss. And anger, too. When my husband woke me up to tell me that George Zimmerman was found not guilty, I felt like I was still sleeping, like I was lost inside a nightmare. Ghosts swirled around me. So many children. And now one more. Five hundred years full of ghosts. Swirling around us all.

I turned to my husband in bed and whispered: “Let’s just move.” He breathed out. “Let’s just move,” I said again. “Let’s go someplace else. Someplace where we don’t have to worry so much …” My husband gazed out the window, then he turned and gazed into me.

We had never talked about moving, about leaving the country, before. Before becoming parents. Before this verdict that stunned us into a mute stillness. We lay there, together, in the bed, staring up at the ceiling, not saying anything more. Listening to the quiet streets. I heard a siren off in the distance, and then I heard nothing as we fell asleep together.

Hours later, our son, our innocent, precious, 4-year-old son, jumped into our bed, cuddled, snored softly against my body and my husband’s, safe and warm in our loving arms. I breathed across his curls, kissed his crown. Watched the morning sun light his quiet face.

He is so innocent. He has never watched an entire news broadcast. Has not watched more than the weather and morning traffic reports. I have not had to explain words like murder, homicide or manslaughter to him. He does not understand the meaning of words like courts, jury and trial. We have yet to define white supremacy, racism, profiling. I have not deliberated with him the nuanced meanings of justice and Just Us. We have no vocabulary to build a discourse about young Trayvon. About himself.

Our son is 4. He waves at firemen as they zoom past in their big red trucks, and they always wave back. He is deeply interested in the pantheon of American superheroes. Spiderman is his favorite, but he can name almost all the “good guys and bad guys.” He knows their mythological origins, knows why they were created for good — or for evil. For him, the line between good guy and bad guy is clear, impossible to cross. So, how do I explain Trayvon to him? What do I say to prepare my son for this world, where a neighborhood watchman who is supposed to be the good guy kills an innocent child who looks so much like my son does?

What do I say to my son, who wields sticks to chase and be chased with his laughing friends as they race through our local park? When I ask him what their sticks have become, he says they are guns. When I ask him what comes out of them, he says pee and poop and fire. He does not know what a bullet is, does not know, really, what guns do. How do I explain that a gun was aimed, fired and discharged a bullet that entered the heart of a boy named Trayvon?