In the wake of the tragic shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and with growing calls to stop what critics contend are racially-motivated police actions, I saw this powerful post on Facebook written by my friend Dawn Porter. Dawn and her husband Dave are black, and the parents of two boys not that much younger than Trayvon Martin. I asked Dawn if we could post her note, and she was happy to share it.
Here’s her post:
Eleven years ago, my husband and I gave a friend a ride to a fancy neighborhood in Essex Fells, N.J., about 15 minutes away from where we live. I was seven months pregnant with my first son. While we sat and waited to make sure she got in safely, a police car with flashing lights pulled up behind us. The officer came to the car and asked why we were there. Even after we told him, he continued to question us, and asked for our license and registration.
My husband and I are both lawyers. We studied hard and worked hard to get through college and law school and we were eagerly awaiting the birth of our first son. In other words, it was the happiest time of our lives.
We were sitting in a car on the side of the road 15 minutes from our own home. We weren’t doing anything.
As I got increasingly annoyed and began to talk back to the officer, I saw my handsome, brilliant, hardworking, never-been-in-trouble husband (and why do I even think it’s important to emphasize that?!!) slowly put both his hands on the steering wheel, and say in a voice — and with a tone I’d never heard from him — “All right, officer. I’m going to reach in and get the documents for you.” In that moment, my husband realized what I didn’t: that nothing mattered then but that we were black and in a place a police officer thought we shouldn’t be.
While the officer walked back to his car to run our license plates, only then did I see his partner standing off to the side, legs spread, pointing a gun at our car.
When he returned our documents, he did not apologize.
I am Trayvon Martin. And 11 years later, I have to explain to my sons that they could be, too.
Dawn Porter is a lawyer and documentary filmmaker. Her documentary “Gideon’s Army” about the American criminal justice system and young criminal defense lawyers practicing in the South will be broadcast on HBO.