Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Best Reactions to the Verdict

There has been some really superb writing on the Zimmerman verdict in the last 24 hours. I thought Ta-Nehisi Coates' first post after the verdict was detached-- right on its merits, but surely not all he was thinking and feeling. He came back with a second post early yesterday morning that deserves to be read in full far and wide. Read it here. A sampling of his tour de force:
We have spent much of this year outlining the ways in which American policy has placed black people outside of the law. We are now being told that after having pursued such policies for 200 years...there are no ill effects, that we are pure, that we are just, that we are clean. Our sense of self is incredible. We believe ourselves to have inherited all of Jefferson's love of freedom, but none of his affection for white supremacy. 
That last line is an incredibly brilliant distillation of the issue. Meanwhile Jamelle Bouie destroyed the popular complaint about "black on black" crime:
The idea that “black-on-black” crime is the real story in Martin’s killing isn’t a novel one...But there’s a huge problem with attempt to shift the conversation: There’s no such thing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other. 
[That's because crime is] driven by opportunism and proximity; If African-Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African-Americans, it’s because they tend to live in the same neighborhoods as each other. Residential statistics bear this out (PDF); blacks are still more likely to live near each other or other minority groups than they are to whites. And of course, the reverse holds as well—whites are much more likely to live near other whites than they are to minorities and African-Americans in particular.
Elsewhere, Bouie questioned whether justice in a larger sense is even possible in the country we have now:
There’s a reason George Zimmerman felt confident enough to confront Trayvon Martin and tell police that he feared for his life. In the America we’ve constructed, blacks are like the minions in a bad action movie. They’re both disposable and dangerous. 
If this sounds hyperbolic, the consider the following. In the United States, implicit association tests find that white participants are more likely to register a threatening affect when presented with black faces. Likewise, a wide range of surveys find widespread anti-black prejudice. All white juries are more likely to convict black defendants, than white ones, and in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, white defendants are more likely to find acquittal when the victims are black. African Americans are arrested and convicted for drug crimes at far greater rates than their white counterparts—despite lower rates of drug use—and blacks are more likely to have encounters with law enforcement, due to patterns of policing (see: stop and frisk in New York City). More than a third of all people affected by felony disenfranchisement laws are black. 
If you can look at all of this and conclude that the system doesn’t have an embedded bias against blacks, I don’t know what to say. Because what’s clear to me is that, for all the real progress we’ve made, this country has yet to relinquish its long-standing hostility to blackness.

Finally, Eugene Robinson offers a devastating critique of the "ho-hum" approach of the local authorities and its implications:
The assumption underlying their ho-hum approach to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin -- young, male, black -- did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin -- young, male, black -- would not. 
If anyone wonders why African-Americans feel so passionately about this case, it's because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It's because we know their adolescent bravura is just that -- an imitation of manhood, not the real thing. We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child's fear and a child's immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.
And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man's pride, but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?
The conversation we need to have is about how black men, even black boys, are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. We need to talk about why, for example, black men are no more likely than white men to smoke marijuana but nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it -- and condemned to a dead-end cycle of incarceration and unemployment. I call this racism. What do you call it?

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