Last week, President Obama publicly grieved for the apparently senseless death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. It hit home especially hard for the President, he said, because "[i]f I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon." This week, under mounting criticism that the President is politicizing Martin’s death, an Obama spokesperson claimed that the President "spoke from the heart" when he grieved for Martin, and I, for one, refuse to dispute that. Indeed, it is always a tragedy when such a young life is extinguished without cause and with no possibility of justice, especially when we can identify with the victim on a personal level as President Obama did with Trayvon Martin.
That is precisely why President Obama’s statement is so appalling.
Allow me to explain. On October 14, 2011, another young American boy was senselessly murdered. His name was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. He was born in Denver on August 26, 1995, six months after the birth of Trayvon Martin, making him just 16 at the time of his murder. His family, like Trayvon’s, described him as a happy teenage boy with a bright future. He shared Trayvon’s dark complexion and jet black hair, enough so that Barack Obama’s imagined son may well have looked just like him. Maybe Barack Obama didn’t know that when he ordered the drone strike that ended Abdulrahman’s young life at a family barbecue. Maybe that’s why there was no grief-stricken statement from the President, no protest on the floor of Congress, no calls for vengeance. Maybe that’s why Spike Lee never felt compelled to tweet "1600 Pennsylvania Ave." to his bloodthirsty followers.
Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was never charged with a crime (nor was his American father Anwar, who was killed in another drone strike two weeks earlier). The Obama Administration, to this day, refuses to provide any evidence that Abdulrahman or anyone else at the barbecue it bombed was a threat to anyone or wanted for any crime. In fact, the Obama Administration lied and said that Abdulrahman was an al-Qaeda militant in his 20s until the al-Awlaki family came forward with photographs and a birth certificate (at which point the Obama Administration simply changed Abdulrahman’s description to "military-aged man").
No, Abdulrahman was simply another in an increasingly and appallingly long line of innocent people killed by American missiles in a war our government still refuses to acknowledge. Another young life destroyed for reasons too illogical or too insidious for the government to admit publicly.
The circumstances around Trayvon Martin’s death have rightly generated national outrage, debate, and increased the momentum of efforts to overhaul the institutional injustice that has claimed far too many young lives in our country. The circumstances around Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s death generated no national outrage, no national debate, and the executive branch’s unilateral war on anyone it declares an enemy continues unchallenged and underreported.
I do not mean to diminish the death of Trayvon Martin or what it represents. I am, however, begging those outraged at the death of Trayvon Martin to take a look behind the Obama Administration’s curtain and see what horrors are being done in their name and with their money. Hooded sweatshirts and dark skin can never justify suspicion and violence in a just society. Neither, though, can facing Mecca when you pray or having a father that the President abhors.
Or maybe Abdulrahman al-Awlaki just didn’t look quite enough like Barack Obama’s imagined son for the President to grieve openly after ordering his death.