I don’t know if high school teacher Spencer Smith was trying to make a serious political statement by mimicking Trayvon Martin for a yearbook photo – or if he thought wearing a hoodie and holding a bag of Skittles was just a joke. If it was supposed to be a joke, it wasn’t funny.
If the snapshot was designed as some sort of social declaration, then say so. Smith, a teacher at Heritage High School in Brentwood, California, has caused a great deal of controversy in his community for imitating Martin, who was tragically shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012.
Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting. Without hearing directly from Smith, I believe his decision was inappropriate and insensitive. I’m all for free speech, after all, I am a journalist, but I also feel that Smith should have shared his reasoning before taking the photo so folks don’t have to wonder about his intentions.
Smith is not a student; he’s a teacher, which means he is also supposed to lead by example. So what’s the lesson here for students at Heritage High School?
He’s doing the students, teachers and parents a disservice by remaining silent. Perhaps Smith had a valid reason for posing for the yearbook snapshot. Who knows? Some parents, however, thought Smith’s photo was “inappropriate.”
One mother, who didn’t want to be named, said: “This is supposed to be capturing the best moments of the year. And all positive things.”
But some students support Smith. Alfreda Charway, president of Brentwood Heritage High School’s Black Student Union, called it “a good idea because he’s expressing himself.” “Because that’s the whole point of yearbook pictures, you’re supposed to express yourself,” Charway told a local television station.
“[It was] ok that he did it, just not in the yearbook,” said Amber McKim, a sophomore at the school.
Trayvon’s Martin’s heartbreaking death is not a joke and should not be mocked. Although told to stand down by police after reporting Martin as “suspicious” Zimmerman followed the teen and confrontation ensued. He shot Martin in the heart, saying he felt threatened by a slim, good-natured 17-year-old carrying a bag of Skittles.
Acquitted on all charges by a Florida jury, to this day Zimmerman has not expressed one ounce of remorse for killing Trayvon Martin.
It’s still open season on black men – young and old – as white men are firing on Black men for no apparent reason and then using “Stand Your Ground” laws as their sorry defense. Sadly, in some cases, the controversial law is working.
We’ve learned that for some whites, Black life – and the lives of Black males in particular –means absolutely nothing. Almost all of my Black male friends have been racially profiled at some point – and that includes me. It could also include Smith.
Smith’s ill-advised high school yearbook photo comes one week after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apologized to Trayvon Martin’s parents for making self-described racist comments about African-Americans wearing hoodies.
“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another,” Cuban said. “If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street.”
I’m not suggesting that Smith apologize, I’m simply saying that if he decides to initiate such a provocative gesture by impersonating Trayvon Martin in a hoodie, then he owes it to the parents, teachers and students to explain his behavior.
What do you think?