On Trayvon Martin And Other Vicious Attacks On Black Americans

On the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, we remember his story and the stories of other black Americans murdered in the last few years.  

Today is the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s killing. And while the nation rose up in response to his killing, other vicious attacks on African-Americans by white citizens have often gone unnoticed and underreported by the national news media.

Most violence is intraracial, but that’s not the only thing that makes these cases stand out. These attacks on black people were not for property or self-defense, and thus appear motivated by hate and indifference toward black life. These were not mass killings or executions at the hands of police officers empowered by the state—these were just white men with guns. A now familiar narrative in the story of America.

And though most of these white perpetrators were arrested and even sentenced for their crimes, we know that there still remains a huge sentencing disparity when it comes to cases involving black victims and white criminals. Statistically, white attackers receive less severe sentences when their victims are black than when they are white, and courts are more likely to deem the killings of black people by white attackers as justified.

So while the justice system continues to disparately value white and black lives, people around the nation continue to push forward the truth that #blacklivesmatter.

I honor Trayvon and others by remembering their stories here.

1) Garrick and Carl Hopkins

Early last year in West Virginia, two brothers in their early 60s drove out to inspect some new land one had recently purchased. Garrick and Carl Hopkins walked onto the property and decided to inspect a shed in the back. As they were looking inside, their new neighbor, Rodney Bruce Black, picked up his rifle and shot the men through his kitchen window. The two men fell into the snow, bleeding to death. Black called 911, reporting that he had killed two men breaking into his shed. Later, Black admitted that he had neither property or anything of value in the backyard structure. In his house, police later found the weapon he used to kill the Hopkins brothers along with 54 additional guns. Black plead not guilty to two counts of murder and is currently facing trial.

2) Darius Simmons

On a spring morning in 2012, 18 year-old Theodore Simmons came downstairs and found his mother in anguish standing at the open front door. She told him frantically that their neighbor had killed his little brother Darius outside. She blocked him from leaving the house, telling him “You ain’t going out there.” Theodore turned around and ran out the back door to reach his younger brother lying on the curb. In tears, Theodore picked up his brother’s dead body and held it in his arms.

Darius had been taking out the garbage when his neighbor, John Spooner, pointed a gun at him and demanded that he put his hands up. After the boy raised his hands, Spooner said he was going to teach him not to steal. He shot Darius point-blank, the boy’s body collapsing on the ground. According to Spooner, he had executed the boy for a burglary that occurred at his house several days prior. The boy’s killing was captured on videotape from a camera outside Spooner’s home. Spooner was sentenced to life in prison.

Darius Simmons was just 13 years old.

3) Donald Maiden, Jr. (aka D.J.)

Latamarin Locklin watched as her little boy, who was celebrating his 8th birthday, ran inside to grab some toys. As he rushed back out to play, she heard a gunshot. She ran outside to find her son bleeding on the ground, a gaping hole in his face. Brian Cloninger, 46, admitted to shooting the little boy in his head. After weeks on a breathing tube in the hospital and multiple surgeries, D.J. now has a tracheotomy tube and still faces future operations as he grows. He continues to have nightmares and lives in constant fear that his attempted killer will escape jail.

4) Renisha McBride

After drinking and partying with friends, Renisha McBride got into a car crash while driving home. Disoriented, she abandoned the car and attempted to walk home. Eventually, the teenager walked up and knocked on a door in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Theodore Wafer, 55, grabbed a shotgun and shot through his screen door at the girl, killing her instantly. Wafer is now serving a sentence of 17 to 32 years in prison. Renisha McBride was only 19 years old.

5) Jordan Davis

About 7:30 on a Friday night, Jordan Davis and three of his friends pulled into a gas station to shop at the convenience store. Another customer, Michael Dunn, asked the teenagers to turn down the music in their car, which he reportedly referred to as “thug music.” Upset with the man’s tone and approach, Davis refused the request. Dunn then pulled a handgun out of his glove compartment and shot the 17-year-old in the legs, lungs, and heart. Dunn drove back to his hotel with his girlfriend and ordered a pizza.

Although serving time for recklessly shooting at Davis’ friends, Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing Jordan Davis.

6) Trayvon Martin

On this day three years ago, Trayvon went to the store to get snacks to eat while he watched basketball games at home. As he walked back to his father’s house, a white man living in his neighborhood stalked him in the darkness, pursued him with a gun, attacked him, and killed him. According to the medical examiner, Trayvon was alive for several minutes in searing pain. His moans of agony can be heard on the 911 recordings of neighbors who refused to intervene while he lay bleeding to death in the grass.

Unbeknownst to Trayvon’s father, his son’s body was removed by police and brought to the morgue. No one told his family he had been killed for several days. Days. And while officials drug-tested Trayvon’ body, they did not administer any drug or alcohol tests to his killer. After giving his statement to police, George Zimmerman was allowed to go home free.

Trayvon Martin was 17 years old.

Khadijah Costley White is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.

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