The shooting death of unarmed, 17-year-old Florida resident Trayvon Martin allegedly by neighborhood block captain George Zimmerman, and the subsequent inactions of law enforcement officials in Sanford, Fla., about investigating the case, have had a profound impact on America.
The impact is evident from rallies of thousands in Sanford, to the "Million Hoodie" march in New York, to "hoodie Sunday" in nationwide churches last Sunday, to demonstrations on college campuses including Howard, (D.C.) Clark Atlanta University, Paul Quinn (Texas), to the simple yet powerful reality of a young woman returning from a downtown Los Angeles rally on the bus and wearing a T-shirt with Martin's photo with a can of Arizona ice tea and bag of Skittles sitting on the seat beside her.
But according to Hope M. Hill, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Howard University, she has seen the impact take an unexpected turn.
"There are 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds who are questioning and making comments like 'will they shoot me; could they shoot me,'" said Hill, who specializes in looking at the impact of violence and trauma on the community, especially children.
"I'm hearing more third- and fourth-graders with more questions and concerns about their own safety."
Typically Hill said children this age would not even be paying attention to the news to hear about such happenings. But they are hearing people talk about it and seeing it on the news.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the increased volume of news that children are now exposed to--television channels and Internet services and sites which report the news 24 hours a day, detailed and repetitive visual coverage of natural disasters and violent acts for example--can lead to a greater negative impact such as youth questioning their safety and whether they could become a victim.
Hill says the impact has not been as dramatic on teens and pre-teens, because in many cases they, especially Black boys, have been schooled on what to do, and what not to do. This is especially true, when the police pull them over.
"However, all the circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martins' death raise so many questions that it is a cause for a lot of concern and unsettling questions that we are going to need to address with our young children."
While she hesitated to apply her comments to all Black children, Hill speculates that the reasons why the Martin case has drilled down so far into the psyche of young children is . . . . "One of the expectations is that someone is going to be found and arrested, someone will have to answer to the criminal justice system. For them in a very concrete way, kids are taught that there are consequences to every action. When you commit even some small infraction, there are consequences," continued Hill. "This young man's life was taken away in a flash and no one was arrested. There was no normal procedure of a basic toxicology report (on Zimmerman), even though there was one on Trayvon."