The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
Black men and women, black boys and girls, will continue to live in a world where they are guilty until proven innocent, and where their lives matter less in a justice system that is anything but blind to race. None of us, in fact, are blind to race. When people say, “I don’t see race,” they are actually saying, “I don’t want to see race and thereby face the world as it really is.” It is the most sincere expression of privilege there is.
We need to consider the bigger picture. What happened to Trayvon Martin is not a problem with Florida. We can joke about the Sunshine State and its supposed backwardness. We can pretend Zimmerman’s acquittal wouldn’t have happened elsewhere. That simply isn’t true. Though Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law contributed significantly to Zimmerman’s acquittal, the root of the problem reaches far deeper and stretches all across these United States. We must forget the convenient narrative that racism only thrives in the South. Racism is an American problem. We all need to stop trying to absolve ourselves of responsibility.
Zimmerman walks now, leaves court a free man, does that in a state with its stand-your-ground laws where you thought the prosecution was fighting a losing game from the start. It no longer matters that Trayvon Martin, unarmed teenager, was supposed to have the same stand-your-ground rights that Zimmerman did. Only it never mattered once they were on the ground and Zimmerman got his gun out and shot him. If you think justice was really served in that courtroom on this night, you were watching the wrong movie...
The defense did a good enough job of convincing the six women on the jury that it was Zimmerman who was the real victim on that night, that it was Trayvon Martin’s job to walk away or run away, that he had no rights once Zimmerman had him in his sights.
Suppose Trayvon Martin had been a 230-pound 30-year-old black man, with a loaded gun in his jacket. Suppose Zimmerman had been a 150-pound 17-year-old white kid, who was doing nothing more threatening than walking back from a convenience store to his father’s condo.
Suppose Martin had stalked Zimmerman in his car, until Zimmerman became afraid and tried to elude him. Suppose Martin had gotten out of his car and pursued Zimmerman. Suppose this led to some sort of altercation in which the big scary black man ended up with a bloody nose and some scratches on the back of his head, and the scared skinny (and unarmed) white kid had ended up with a bullet in his heart.
How do you suppose the big scary black man’s claim of “self-defense” would have gone over with a jury made up almost entirely of white women? But of course this is America, which means that the scary figure in this story is the skinny unarmed teenager, because in America pretty much any black male over the age of 12 in this sort of situation is going to be presumed to be the ”aggressor,” the “thug” – in short,” the real criminal,” until he’s proved innocent, which he won’t be, even if he’s now a dead, still unarmed teenager. And his killer is a grown man who provokes a fight with an otherwise harmless kid, starts losing it, and then shoots the kid dead.
Because this is America, pointing out that a black boy can be shot with impunity by a more or less white man because many white Americans are terrified by black boys and men is called “playing the race card.” The race card is what the people who benefit politically from the fact that many white Americans are terrified by black boys and men call any reference to the fact that race continues to play an overwhelmingly important, and overwhelmingly invidious, role in American culture in general. And in the criminal justice system in particular.
Trayvon Martin was stalked by George Zimmerman because he was black. Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black. George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin because the boy Zimmerman killed was black.
If you deny these things, you are either a liar or an idiot, or possibly both.
Nothing above requires the conclusion that the jury’s verdict was wrong as a matter of law. Florida’s laws, in their majestic equality, extend to people of all races the right to engage in vigilante killing that eliminates the sole witness to that killing. To point this out is neither a defense of those laws, nor a claim that they will in fact be applied equally. In other words, to blame this jury in this situation is to miss the point.
What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime. But this curious result says as much about Florida's judicial and legislative sensibilities as it does about Zimmerman's conduct that night. This verdict would not have occurred in every state. It might not even have occurred in any other state. But it occurred here, a tragic confluence that leaves a young man's untimely death unrequited under state law. Don't like it? Lobby to change Florida's laws.
During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors stepped forward to contribute the funds that underwrote their efforts, there is a sense that George Zimmerman was the victim.
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in the city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one, but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
Last year--after Zimmerman was arrested--I wrote something hoping that he would be convicted. A commenter wrote in to object, saying that arguing for his arrest was justifiable. Arguing for his conviction was not. I acknowledged the point at the time. The wisdom of it seems even more appropriate today...
The idea that Zimmerman got out the car to check the street signs, was ambushed by 17-year old kid with no violent history who told him he "you're going to die tonight" strikes me as very implausible. It strikes me as much more plausible that Martin was being followed by a strange person, that the following resulted in a confrontation, that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation, and Zimmerman then shot him. But I didn't see the confrontation. No one else really saw the confrontation. Except George Zimmerman. I'm not even clear that situation I outlined would result in conviction...
I think the message of this episode is unfortunate. By Florida law, in any violent confrontation ending in a disputed act of lethal self-defense, without eye-witnesses, the advantage goes to the living.
An intelligent, self-interested observer of this case, who happens to live in Florida, would not be wrong to do as George Zimmerman did--buy a gun, master the finer points of Florida self-defense law and then wait.
Circling back to the first point, it's worth remembering that caused a national outcry was not the possibility of George Zimmerman being found innocent, but that there would be no trial at all. This case was really unique because of what happened with the Sanford police. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you know the name "Jordan Davis." Then ask yourself how many protests and national media reports you've seen about him.