My response to the Trayvon Martin verdict has been complex. I didn’t follow the case closely, having read primarily superficial discussions of the case until that point. When I heard about the verdict I was disappointed but not surprised. When Rodney Kings attackers were acquitted I was shocked and surprised. The Zimmeran verdict shows that white America hasn’t gotten much more civilized. I think one could argue that black America has, since the response from black Americans has been reasoned and reasonable. One can hope it will effective as well.
I found some of the response worth commenting on. William Saletan wrote an article on Slate titled “Your Are Not Trayvon Martin”, which I found particularly disturbing. His thesis is that:
The problem at the core of this case wasn’t race or guns. The problem was assumption, misperception, and overreaction. And that cycle hasn’t ended with the verdict. It has escalated.
He goes on to explain that Zimmerman wasn’t a racist, that the whole thing was a stupid sequence of event based on fear, overreaction and misperception. All of the latter points would seem to be factually true. Whether or not Zimmerman is a racist is a bit more of a difficult question. Standards as to what constitute being a racist change over time. Behavior an opinions which would have been considered egalitarian and progressive in 1892 would be considered backward and rampantly racist today. The evidence does suggest that Zimmerman is no self-identifying racist longing for the glory days of slavery or the clan… but he would seem to be a racist to the extent that he finds a black teenager walking down the sidewalk in a hoody scary and suspicious.
Zimmerman’s attorney mad the assertion (28:02 of the video below) claims that Zimmerman would never have been charged with a crime, had Zimmerman been black. That’s an interesting assertion. Had Zimmerman been black and killed Trayvon Martin, would he have been charged? I don’t know. But I think we should ask ourselves some other questions:
- If Trayvon had been white, and Zimmerman black, what do you think would have happened. The statistics would suggest the death penalty would be likely.
- If Trayvon had been white, would Zimmerman have acted as he did?
- Put yourself in Travon’s situation: You’re walking to a friend’s home wearing a hoody and carrying a bag of skittles and soda pop. Some guy starts giving you a hard time, so you run away. He runs after you. You defend yourself and he shoots you dead. Wouldn’t you want the justice system to take some action against the guy?
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I think it’s exceeding naive to think that race, prejudice and racial profiling had nothing to do with this sequence of events. I’m annoyed at journalists’ attempts (like those of mr. Saletan) to dismiss people’s efforts to address the problems that black people still face in America. People, including my white self, are angry and frustrated at this outcome and what it says about our society.