Tag Archives: Zimmerman

“Why does it always have to be about race?”

9267368072_11533350da_zI have been unsettled about the George Zimmerman verdict since it was rendered Saturday night. I’ve bounced back and forth between anger and disappointment. It’s not that a “Not Guilty” verdict was a surprise, it’s that the offense that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is, by nature, hard to prosecute. How do you put a person’s subconscious on trial? How do you prosecute an entire mythology that profiles Black boys as probably dangerous and probably up to no good?

Why does it always have to be about race? Because race is a factor. Race has value attached to it, and ignoring that reality is a privilege. I know some of you will say, what privilege? I’m white and I don’t get anything extra because of it. I disagree. What you get is to belong everywhere. You get to avoid the specter of suspicion brought on by your mere presence in a place. You get to just be.

Why is it always about race?  Because since the beginning, race has informed the structure of our institutions and our policies. But we pretend to be color-blind. This way, we don’t have to wrestle with the disparities that exist between Blacks and whites at almost every level of existence, nor the subliminal messages we receive from media about criminal pathologies to which Black Americans are genetically predisposed, I guess.

Why does it always have to be about race? Because this color-blind society of ours affords some of us a presumption of innocence and paints others with the presumption of guilt. The 1947 doll test and subsequent studies showed that, subconsciously, brown skin is akin to menace. That’s the offense. You could never get the Zimmerman jury to believe that the menace in this situation was George Zimmerman.  He was the creepy one.   Did they ever consider that George Zimmerman was suspicious to Trayvon Martin?  Why was that such a stretch of the imagination that the Prosecution would need to lead them there?  Zimmerman had the arrest record for domestic violence and the loaded gun.  Yet, he gets to be suspicious and the unarmed Black kid gets to be the suspect.  He is wrong, but the law protects his bad inference.  It was lose-lose for Trayvon Martin the moment George Zimmerman encountered him.  There is no justice in that, in life or in death.

So what now?  I’m not here for marches or rallies or riots because, well, I’m over that. I’m also uninterested in wilfully obtuse conversations about reverse racism or the indignity of ‘cracker’ vs. the indignity of ‘nigger’. I am interested in honest discussions about race. Ask me questions, challenge my assumptions, and allow me to do the same. I’m willing to confront race and acknowledge the differences because my Blackness is not incidental for me.  I am not color-blind and I admit that being Black informs my worldview. Similarly, you have to admit that not being Black has informed yours. After watching Juror B37’s interview last night, it is clear that some people have no experience with Black people, save the stereotypes from media or the music they listen to.  We have to change that.  Start by engaging the conversation.  Listen more than you speak.  Understand that you are not representative of the whole.  Understand, too, that you may not be racist, or you just may not know it.

Lastly, two things: First, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal was an anomaly. I’m not sure if Black people thought he was innocent, or if we were just tickled to see the system work in a Black person’s favor, petty as that seems. In contrast, George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a page right out of a Black history book. No Black people on the jury and no acknowledgement of the role of race as an aggravating factor. Only in the absence of context are these two cases similar. Second, miss me with the ‘don’t be mad about Trayvon if you aren’t mad about Black on Black violence’ meme. Jamelle Bouie’s piece, “The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime,” notes that the large majority of crimes are committed by people who know each other or live near to one another. This means that if Black on Black crime is a thing, then so is white on white crime, as 86% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Still, even if the proliferation of Black on Black crime wasn’t a myth, don’t police my emotions. Black people can decry street violence and the targeting of our young men at the same time. And even then, again, only in the absence of context are these two incidences the same.

I said all of this to say: If you find yourself asking why certain conflicts “always have to be about race,” recognize that privilege is not having to know the answer to that question.

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A Word About Trayvon Martin

Allow me to present the facts:

Unarmed 17-year-old male walks home from a 7-Eleven in the rain in Sanford, Florida. He carries a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea. He’s wearing jeans and a hoodie.

A volunteer neighborhood watch captain calls the police, telling the operator that he spied a “real suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about…”

The dispatcher tells Mr. Neighborhood Watch – now in pursuit with a 9mm handgun – not to pursue the guy. They on it; they got it.

But he does. And a squabble ensues. Mr. Neighborhood Watch shoots. Unarmed 17-year-old male is killed. Shooter claims self-defense.

Now let’s color in this outline.

The male’s name is Trayvon Martin, a skinny Black kid weighing 140 pounds. An A-B student. Had no criminal record.

Mr. Neighborhood Watch is George Zimmerman. He is 28, a big guy; he weighs about 250 pounds. Folks say he was pressed to be a police officer. He was a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain. He’d called the police 46 times in the last 15 months. According to the Huffington Post, Zimmerman had been the subject of complaints from his neighbors about his aggressive tactics. His neighbors also claimed that Zimmerman, a white dude, was “fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.” Fixated on crime? “Focused” on young, Black males? This cat didn’t have no authority to do shit. He was “fixated on delusions of grandeur, and focused on being a fucking dick” is how that should have read.

But this isn’t just about George Zimmerman’s inability to deal sufficiently with his dreams deferred, and turning into the over-aggressive community hall monitor as a result. Zimmerman bet on a racist stereotype and came up wrong. Way wrong.

For the moment, I’m not going to play the “if Trayvon was white” game with you. The injustice in this case is that George Zimmerman is protected – by law – for his bet on a racist stereotype. And Trayvon Martin is dead because of it.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” law allows folks to play cops and robbers with real lives and real guns. And sure, you may be able to find a justifiable reason for vigilantism like Carl Lee Hailey did in “A Time to Kill.” But in George Zimmerman’s case, from the very outset, the wrongdoing is his own. He killed a guy who was unarmed because he had this line of reasoning: Black guy –> “just walking around” in my gated community –> suspicious.

*ding* *ding* *ding* There’s your problem. Institutional racism is psychological. It sneaks up on you; it sneaks up in you.

To be sure, one could make the case that the law itself has some issues.  But I’ll be honest with y’all:  if it was Trayvon Martin or Robert Downey, Jr. breaking into my house in the middle of the night, I’ma want “Stand Your Ground” to protect me if some shit pops off. That is if, in fact, Trayvon Martin or Robert Downey, Jr. was breaking into my house. In fact. Not figment of imagination.

Zimmerman’s psychological prejudice against that young man, coupled with his police officer fantasy, allowed him to profile Trayvon Martin without a second thought. These practices, racism and racial profiling, are both lazy and dangerous, as this case so clearly proves.  They rely on presumptions of guilt based in weak, opaque information.

The suspect is or might be a young Black male who is or might look between the ages of 16 and 35, and is possibly wearing a shirt with button on it.* Put out an APB to patrol and tell Zimmerman over in Sanford to be on the lookout.

With a little investigation, “the suspect” may later identify himself (because he’s still alive, you see) as:

Trayvon Martin;

Amadou Diallo;

Oscar Grant; or

Sean Bell**

…for example.

They could clear up the misunderstanding, and force “security” to work smarter at its job. They could force it to rely less on fear, which can be a terribly irrational emotion, as sole judge and jury.

We don’t know exactly what transpired between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in the seconds and minutes between 911 calls. What we do know, thanks in part to the 911 recordings, is that it was Trayvon Martin who attempted to defend his life by howling for help. And it was George Zimmerman who had the criminal record, the gun, the weight advantage, and presumably, the strength advantage. Yet, the boy is dead, and George Zimmerman’s irrational fear, according to Florida law, makes him justified in causing it.

Now I’ll play the “what if Trayvon Martin was white” game with you because Black people’s claims of racism are often met with eye-rolling and irritation. A lot of “here we go again” and “is Rev. Al marching yet?”  First, let me assure you that there is no perverse sense of enjoyment reaped when prejudice is responsible for a death.  We rally and we march, and Al Sharpton shows up because the fact that folks still aint acting right needs some attention.  And because, by and large, Black life isn’t valued in the same way non-Black lives are.  Remember the final court scene in “A Time to Kill,” when Jake Brigance shares the awful details of an assault on a little girl, and his final words are, “now imagine if she were white.”   What’s left unsaid in that moment, but resonates nonetheless is “now do you get it?  Now do you understand the tragedy before us?”

What if some asshole with an itchy trigger finger hunted down and killed any other teenage boy with the same résumé as Trayvon’s, namely teenage boy walking home in the rain?

Are you outraged yet?  Now do you get it?  Now do you see the tragedy before us?

George Zimmerman should be arrested.  He should have to stand trial for his actions on February 26, 2012.

________

*(yes, racism and prejudice still play a role when the officers or aggressors are Black. See what I said about the normative gaze in my Rihanna and Chris Brown post .)

**That’s really what George Zimmerman said. “….And he’s a Black male, he’s got a button on his shirt