Monday, July 15, 2013

Trayvon's Humanity Remains Devalued

"These assholes, they always get away," are the words George Zimmerman said to a police dispatcher as he began following Trayvon Martin the evening of February 26, 2012.  How ironic these words seem considering the jury’s verdict this past weekend acquitting Mr. Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, an innocent seventeen-year-old black youth.

Suppose Trayvon Martin had somehow managed to wrestle Mr. Zimmerman’s gun from him and at the end of the struggle it was Mr. Zimmerman who was dead, do you really believe that Trayvon Martin would have been found “not guilty”? Would Trayvon be free or behind bars waiting to be sentenced to death?

The statistics are clear and definitive on who “gets away” with murder and other crimes here in the so-called “greatest nation on earth,” where justice is rarely administered impartially. Black youth (and other minorities) are still far more likely to be detained, arrested, prosecuted, tried, convicted, sentenced as adults (if juveniles), and imprisoned longer than white youth suspected of similar crimes.

Let’s be honest. Even if you believe Mr. Zimmerman's story that Trayvon Martin physically attacked him rather than the opposite, George Zimmerman got away with murder or at the very least manslaughter. After all, was it Trayvon Martin or Mr. Zimmerman who initiated the tragic chain of events?  Exactly who was following whom with a gun? And, who ignored the police dispatcher’s directions to stay put and stop following the victim?

The six jurors have spoken. I respect their decision that the state did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  With that said, I cannot remain silent on why this tragedy happen in the first place.

Race is surely at the heart of it. Granted, we’ve come a long ways in the 68 years since I was born, but far too many of us continue to see black youth like Trayvon Martin as one of "them," as a negative racial stereotype – as someone to fear.

George Zimmerman certainly did that evening. And, in doing so, he devalued Trayvon Martin’s humanity, which led to Trayvon’s tragic death.

Until we stop as a society from associating black Americans with more negative words and imagery than we do white Americans, the racial bias that still contaminates our society and distorts our perception of the world will continue to alienate and separate us from one another, will continue to perpetuate an atmosphere of fear, distrust and racial bigotry.


mythopolis said...

This is a classic example of the 'Stand Your Ground' legislation many states have passed. Some states have a clause that first you retreat to safety, and when that is not possible, stand your ground. In other states, there isn't even a retreat first clause...if confronted in a (perceived) threatening manner, defend yourself. The idea of people patrolling a neighborhood with a permit to carry goes beyond due diligence and on to vigilantism.

Dee Newman said...

Dan, you're right. Despite the fact that the attorneys for Zimmerman did not use a "stand your ground" defense, the Florida stand your ground gun law did play a significant role in his acquittal. None of his questionable actions (including profiling Trayvon, following him with a gun, or shooting him in self-defense) are against the law in Florida. Sometimes laws are not just.

Stickup Artist said...

There is so much wrong, where does one begin?

However, a thoughtful national dialogue seems to be emerging from this tragedy and subsequent courtroom travesty.

mythopolis said...

Interestingly...I saw on the news yesterday that Stevie Wonder announced that he will not perform in any state that has the stand-your-ground law in effect...

Irwin Goldzweig said...

Dee - thanks for your thoughtful comments. There's no doubt race played a huge role in all this. It's hard to imagine if the victim was white and the shooter black that the shooter would be acquitted. Race, age, and a very strange law led to tragic results. We can each find a role to play in seeking change. Another thing I haven't heard mentioned is I think there should have been at least one African American on the prosecuting team. This would have demonstrated awareness of the racial imbalance we saw.