Fifty years ago, a Baptist preacher mounted a stage on the Mall to offer a thrillingly operatic description of his American dream. Today, many who’ve called a Florida 17-year-old’s shooting death an “epic tragedy,” and those who recently stormed the airwaves to decry a white Australian baseball player’s killing are wondering what these deaths say about that dream’s fulfillment.
Trayvon Martin and Christopher Lane were unremarkable young men whose cruel slayings thrust them upon the national stage. It’s appropriate to spotlight their tragically shortened lives — yet I keep thinking about Daniel.
A real, live black Florida 18-year-old whom I recently met, Daniel is every bit as unknown as Trayvon and Lane were before their deaths. What do his humanity, his aliveness — and that of countless other anonymous youths — tell us about why the killings of the other young men became theater?
Vacationing in Orlando, two weeks after George Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict at a Sanford, Fla., courthouse, I wandered into a sports outlet to buy sneakers. Within minutes I was greeted by a hoodie-sporting young salesman whose smile and greeting were so warm, I blurted, “Are you on commission?” Daniel’s reply: “My commission will be your smile when you find your shoes.”