The trial is over and the jury has faithfully rendered their verdict in the Trayvon Martin Case. The rule of law is supreme as it should be, and our system of the burden of proof falling on the State is reinforced. A troubled man is reunited with a relieved family so that at least not everyone associated with the case is such an elemental part of the tragedy.
Still there is a gnawing question deep in our collective national gut concerning just what was it that Trayvon Martin did wrong?
George Zimmerman’s brother told a Network News outlet that the teen was armed with his fists and concrete sidewalk contrary to forensics evidence at the scene that he possessed a can of Arizona Iced Tea and Skittles. Don West, one of the two principal Zimmerman defense attorneys, declared in a post- verdict news conference that it was “disgraceful” that the case was even brought to a court of law in the first place. Mark O’Meara, the other defense attorney, said that Trayvon Martin issued a pulverizing beating to Zimmerman for a full forty-five seconds. O’Meara went on to say that Zimmerman was guilty of nothing but defending himself against a deadly attack.
Attorneys for both sides continued to insist that race played no part in the case though prosecutors contend that Trayvon Martin was profiled as a criminal leading to his death.
What we may ask permitted the defendant George Zimmerman to profile the youth so easily and naturally? It could not be what he was doing that night—simply being there and walking home. It could not be that he was armed or carrying burglary tools as plainly he was not. It could not be that Zimmerman recognized Martin as a previously convicted criminal because he was not.
We’re left with the mere fact that he was there and was black and wore a hoodie. Oh, and he provocatively placed a thumb in the waistband of his jeans too.
It was Trayvon Martin who was on trial in this case in court from start to finish. His status as the victim was completely lost as the defense so strongly reinforced so many racial stereotypes. And it is plain fact that Martin deserved just as much consideration in his right to be present in that community that night and defend himself as Zimmerman was.
The defendant’s stimulating commentary to a police dispatcher just as the incident began to unfold as to Martin being a F****** Asshole and a F****** Punk shows more than a remarkable perspicuity on the part of Zimmerman. He also added that “they” always get away. Zimmerman had never met Martin, in fact did not know the young teen he was following that night at all. And at this writing we still are attempting to discern who “they” are.
Struggles for Justice would ask Zimmerman what it was that Trayvon Martin was getting away from by simply walking home that evening. We can only speculate that it was his black skin and mode of dress in wearing a hoodie that condemned him.
Walking while black is not and ought not to be a criminal offense in Florida or anyplace else. We are left in this case and not just with the verdict itself with the truth that a black youth could not safely be permitted to go home after visiting a convenience store where he lawfully purchased some candy and a drink prior to rejoining his soon to be step-bother to watch the second half of the NBA All-Star game.
The fact that some black men commit crimes does not mean that every black man or youth that you see is a criminal deserving of a call to police and a foot pursuit and attempted apprehension and detention for the police. For that is what Zimmerman was doing that night. And he ignored police requests that he get back in his truck, go home, and let police handle the matter. Whether it is Trayvon Martin in 2013 or Emmet Till in 1956, the nation still has a lot of growing up to do regrding racial brotherhood and sisterhood.
Zimmerman is not guilty of murder in fact as well as in law but he is nevertheless fully culpable for all time for what happened that night. Even if he was at the last extremity justified in shooting Trayvon Martin in self-defense, Zimmerman’s own affirmative acts led to the necessity to use deadly force—something that was not proven fully in court. It was only the jury’s sense of his likely feeling that he was in danger of great bodily harm. It was George Zimmerman who is responsible for taking it upon himself to judge Trayvon Martin a criminal and to set in motion events which promptly led to his death.
The nation has not progressed as far on civil rights as we thought we have. That is the message and legacy of Trayvon Martin’s killing. And despite the protestations of both West and O’Meara to the contrary, this is a civil rights case at its heart. It goes to the worst racial stereotyping and profiling imaginable. The great white fear of the dangerous black man in a hoodie was front and center in this case running through the web of lies Zimmerman told.
Black kids should be able to walk their neighborhoods without being pursued by strangers after dark for reasons they can only guess. They should be able to walk proudly while black and without fear. That is what we have to learn from this case and what we must change into reality now.
The 50th Commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dram Speech will not be just historical memory now. Trayvon Martin requires that the ceremonies on August 28th this year at the Lincoln Memorial be part of a new March on Washington to help change and to move the civil rights equation further toward equal justice in America in 2013 and beyond–not just in 1963.