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Travesty in “Post-Racial” America: the Zimmerman Verdict

(Photo: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)

Black America and people of good will of all races watched in utter dismay as the jury in the George Zimmerman Trial issued its verdict of not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Once the case finally surfaced (after inexplicably being buried with no arrest of the killer for weeks), it was absolutely clear that Trayvon Martin was “racially” profiled as a “dangerous looking” Black man by a wannabe cop turned self-appointed vigilante named George Zimmerman. However, in “post-racial” America, apparently this was not at all clear to the policing authorities in Sanford, Florida, who would have never arrested and charged Zimmerman had it not been for the massive national outcry and protests. There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of the vast majority of Africans in America that if a 28-year-old Black man had pursued, confronted and killed an unarmed 17-year-old White teenager, who was simply returning home after shopping at the local convenience store, that Black man would have been arrested, charged and eventually found guilty. Such is the state of race relations and racial justice in what far too many people would like to conveniently believe is “post-racial” America.

From the outset, I expressed serious doubt about the prospects of Trayvon Martin’s family receiving justice because Sanford, Florida, is a bastion of White Republican conservatism. The selection of an all-White, female jury (one of whom was a Latina) from a jury pool in this community compounded my concerns. Moreover, the prosecution and the Martin family legal team were reluctant to introduce racial profiling as a key element in the case, choosing instead the more subtle tact of saying that Trayvon was “criminally” profiled. Virtually no one in Black America doubts that young Black boys/men are profiled as suspects simply because of their race. This is precisely why Trayvon’s murder resonated with Black mothers, fathers and young people all across this country. Indeed, we must not forget that the “Stand Your Ground Law,” which Zimmerman initially used in his defense, was created to defend “decent, law-abiding citizens” (White people) against the “criminal elements” in our society (dangerous Black men). These specious laws propagated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with the backing of the right-wing, billionaire Koch brothers have spread to several states. They are part of a calculated strategy to guard against the menacing criminal hordes.

Racial profiling and Martin’s right to “stand his ground” to defend himself from a “creepy looking cracker” who was following him, despite being told by the 911 police dispatcher not to do so, should have been the heart of the case against Zimmerman. Instead, the prosecution chose to take race off the table and focus on whose voice was heard screaming on the tapes and who was on top in what should have been characterized as a “fistfight” where the aggressor had a gun. It is entirely possible that a frightened Martin defended himself against a “creepy cracker” and was frantically administering a good old-fashioned whipping on Zimmerman before he pulled his gun and killed Trayvon. How is it that in a fistfight, which was precipitated by Zimmerman’s unnecessary and unauthorized pursuit of Trayvon, Zimmerman can claim the right to use deadly force in self-defense? An all-White jury drawn from a predominantly White, Republican, conservative locale concluded that Zimmerman was the victim who feared for his life and therefore was not guilty of murdering Martin.

Defense attorney Don West even declared that it was a tragedy that could have become a travesty if Zimmerman had been convicted. In an awkward attempt to empathize with the Martin Family, lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara equated Trayvon’s murder to a family’s loss of a son in a car accident or to cancer! The Zimmerman verdict and the post-trial gloating by the defense team demonstrate that the idea of a post-racial America is delusional. Substantial sectors of White America have no clue about what it means to be a young Black man in America, whether rich, middle-class or poor. The negative portrayals of Black men in the media, some of which are attributable to the War on Drugs, crime, violence and fratricide in America’s “dark ghettos,” has reduced all Black men to suspects. The Zimmerman verdict was a travesty that did little to engender faith in the criminal justice system.

Recent Supreme Court verdicts further limiting Affirmative Action and gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 illustrate the degree to which conservatives and a fair number of Whites of all political persuasions are convinced that race no longer matters as a major impediment to Black progress. These decisions coupled with the Zimmerman verdict have produced widespread frustration and anger in Black America. But, this frustration and anger will be for naught unless Blacks and people of good will mobilize and organize to advance an agenda to finish the unfinished civil rights/human rights agenda for equality and opportunity in this nation. Those systems and institutions that commit injustices against our people must feel some pain! For example, the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida must be changed. That will require that Blacks, Latinos, Asians and progressive Whites register and march on ballot boxes with a vengeance to change the composition of the state legislature. Simultaneously, perhaps, a National Coalition of Conscience should declare an economic boycott against Florida (the NAACP National Convention is occurring in Orlando at this very moment, pumping millions of dollars into Florida’s economy) until the Stand Your Ground Law is changed – Green Power will produce policy change. The highly successful Moral Mondays organized by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, NAACP state president in North Carolina, are also an excellent model of resistance that should be examined for possible adoption in other states.

The point is that anger without action is just anger. There are still millions of Blacks across the country who are not registered or who do not vote. Those who are frustrated by the Zimmerman verdict can take it out by registering and voting to rid this nation of the scourge of radical conservatism. We can use Black dollars as a weapon to advance an inclusive, progressive Black agenda by boycotting those states that adopt voter identification laws or Stand Your Ground Laws one at a time. As we gather for the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, hopefully, our national leaders will offer a concrete plan for resisting the “intolerable acts” that are being heaped on Africans in America. Frederick Douglass put it best when he said: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

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