“If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” said former President Barack Obama at a press conference in March 2012. Trayvon Martin would have celebrated his 25th birthday this past February, eight years after he had his life taken from him at just 17-years-old. “And I think they [his parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves."
The nation did exactly that.
After deliberating for over 16 hours total in July of 2013, a six-woman jury acquitted then-29-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain for a gated community, who had fatally shot the teenager on his way home from a 7-11.
The hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, was first coined on a FaceBook post by American civil rights activist Alicia Garza, and as the years went on, unlawful killings of African-Americans did as well. A hashtag became a slogan became a campaign became a social movement, advocating for justice and reform.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrated in 2014 for Eric Garner, in 2015 for Sandra Bland, in 2016 for Alton Sterling, in 2017 for Philando Castile, and in 2020, just last weekend, for George Floyd — each of whom died at the hands of those sworn to “protect and serve.”
These names are not unfamiliar.
In fact, #SayTheirNames is another social movement, raising awareness against police brutality by remembering the innocent we have lost. American teenagers are no strangers to these facts. Dubbed the iGeneration, today’s teens have been following, tweeting, and friend-ing from as young as eight years old — exposed to graphic footage, activist propaganda, and change.org petitions long before they completely understood the words “systematic oppression” and “racial profiling."
For the average, non-BIPOC (black, indigenous person of color) American, BLM and the modern civil rights movement are relevant only at certain points in the year. Take the Super Bowl, for example. Ever since Kaepernick famously knelt in protest during the National Anthem in 2016 (garnering much notoriety for BLM), debates fire up every February over patriotism, police reform, and racism.
It’s even easier to feel unaffected in non-black communities, where these tragedies and injustices don’t necessarily hit home. Non-BIPOC and white Americans have the privilege to click away from a news story, to close out Instagram, to turn off the news, to go about their lives as if there is no race war bubbling beneath the fabric of their country.
But this time, it’s different.
BLM has taken the digital world by storm, especially due to quarantine. Countless petitions, charities, pre-written letters addressed to city officials — the amount of activism on social media is overwhelming, and perhaps it is just what the civil rights movement needs.
As the iGeneration comes of age, develops a political understanding, and learns about our nation’s history, activism adopts a more and more digital appearance. While this runs the risk of turning performative, young people all across the World Wide Web are making one thing clear — America will never again be the same.
Teenagers are persistent; it’s no longer “post-ur-pic-and-go," it’s “post everyday, five times a day." It’s donating whatever’s left on your debit card. It’s streaming a video for seven hours because the YouTuber is donating any ad revenue to bail out protesters. It’s confronting racist parents and friends. It’s watching an hours-long documentary on the criminal justice system even though school ended just last week.
When Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, petitioners were warned not to push for a harsher charge; Zimmerman’s overcharge potentially allowed him to walk free.
But that’s not the only lesson and legacy Trayvon Martin has left behind.
There is no longer any room for silence, neutrality, or ignorance. To not be on the side of BLM is to be on the side of systemic racism, and teenagers are making this known in their zero-tolerance attitudes and unflinching activism. There is simply no room to hide on a platform meant to bare all, and lay bare our nation’s crimes it shall.
Williams, M. (23 March 2012). The Guardian. “Obama: Trayvon Martin death a tragedy that must be fully investigated”. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/23/obama-trayvon-martin-tragedy. Accessed 1 June 2020.