In the case involving George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, last evening the jury pronounced him not guilty. The verdict shocked me, angered me and saddened me. There is absolutely no way George Zimmerman should be able to walk the streets for killing an innocent 17 year old kid! He was NOT defending himself, that rainy night in Florida, the only defense he needed was his car, which he should have stayed in, and a gun, which he should have never used. The shouts from the crowd of “the system fails again” is well understood. The system has been communicating for years that African Americans bodies are not as valuable as others. I am so angry and frustrated that it is difficult to put words together.
If Trayvon Martin had been born white he would be alive today. That has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste. Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you – and the millions your memory represents – by building a movement that makes America what it must become. RIP. – Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
Now that I have dried a few tears and have tried to silence the outrage in my soul over the Zimmerman verdict heard last night, it is my hope that I can put words together in some way or another. My first reaction to the verdict was anger, and then sadness, and eventually outrage! Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him gets to walk away from the crime without serving any jail time. For a brief moment as I awaited the verdict, I had some hope that maybe, just maybe the judicial system would work in favor of an innocent, unarmed 17 year old kid walking home from the store. Even though our history in America has done nothing to even encourage such glimmer of hope.
According to Robert Zimmerman (the brother of George), our judicial system is one of the best and actually works well. A statement that would not likely ever be voiced by African Americans and other brown skinned bodies, especially Black men. The system is slanted against African Americans disproportionately – the evidence repeatedly bears this out. And even when a Black teenager walks home from a trip to the store, folks are willing to suggest stupid stuff like “he was armed with a sidewalk” – what kind of BS is that?
This of course is not the only stupidity and ignorance that has been spouted off by those in favor of the verdict. Here are a few more:
- This was not about race
- My brother committed no crime
- Trayvon was not only armed with the sidewalk, he was armed with his fists
- Trayvon was not the victim of a murder/crime
- People are playing the race card
Of course there are more ridiculous words that have been uttered, but I think you get it by now. It is still just as unfathomable to me today as it was over a year ago, that a man driving in a neighborhood with a gun sees a Black male walking in the rain with a hoodie on in “his” neighborhood and assumes he is guilty or “up to something” even though he was simply walking home – yes that’s called racial profiling!
This strong, or at least heavy set grown man with a gun, exits his car to follow the Black guy – a young man who has no idea that the guy pursuing him is neighborhood watch.
I pray for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. I pray for African Americans who once again have had to hear the underlying message that our lives do not have value and intrinsic worth. I weep for those who insist, perhaps due to blindness or at best denial, that race does not factor into this situation.
Justice was not served yesterday. Utter disregard for the value of brown skinned people and the legitimizing of racism is what happened yesterday evening. This hurts like hell (yes, I did just say that). And as much as I wanted to ignore the pain that I felt last night and the sorrow in my heart today, sometimes we just need to sit with our pain for a bit – not spiritualize it or stuff it down in the name of taking action, but just acknowledge it and cry as much as we need to.
Last night and even somewhat today, the only prayer I could offer was in the form of tears. Sometimes the tears are the prayer – no fancy words, and for the most part, no words at all, just tears flowing from a place of deep pain and anguish.
Two words have been on my mind for the last couple of weeks – “Trayvon Martin.” I have turned the revealed details over in my head and heart and respond with an appropriate feeling of anger at the apparent injustice of it all. I did not know Trayvon and I do not know his family, causing some to ask why I care. The only response I can muster up to such wondering is “why don’t YOU care?”
I have deeply spiritual and human reasons for caring. My heart aches as I wonder what it might have been like for Trayvon to journey from the store to his dad’s home only to have the entirety of his being filled with fear as he peered down the barrel of George Zimmeran’s gun, never anticipating that his trip to the store might be the last trip, the last pack of Skittles, the last bottle of iced tea.
In the Martin, Zimmerman case, it is difficult for me to believe that the “Stand your ground law” in Florida is designed for people like Zimmerman – based on the 911 calls, Zimmeran was following Martin even though instructed not to do so. Zimmerman is about 100lbs heavier than Martin was. Zimmerman was armed and Martin was not. The mere reality that Zimmerman followed this teen because, according to his perceptions, he looked suspicious is cause for the law being in place for people like Martin – who really seems to be the one whose life was in danger and threatened? And even if Zimmerman was in danger (which I doubt), did he need to shoot to kill?
Assumptions regarding racial motivation on the part of Zimmerman (whether false or true) serve as a reminder of the yet existent pain of racial inequality in the US. Being Black in America still means encountering individuals who will view your very existence as a threat and see your skin pigmentation and way of being as “suspicious.” In many cases “looking suspicious” only means I look different than you, have different mannerisms, hair texture, and wardrobe.
Social stereotypes still exist – can’t even where your hooded sweatshirt when it’s raining, especially if you are an African American male. And rather than focus on the injustices surrounding Trayvon and other “Trayvons” of society, we still have individuals like popular TV personality Geraldo Rivera spouting nonsense that suggests that Trayvon’s death was as much his own fault because he was wearing a hoodie. But as Eugene Cho says
Hoodies don’t kill just as short skirts don’t rape. Focus on the injustice and not the wardrobe.
The stark reality is that even without the hoodie, Trayvon still lived in his brown skin.
I love my lighter brothers and sisters – sincerely, but the subtle hints that we are overreacting and simply reading into things when we insist that racism and racial profiling are the real experiences of the African American race is an insult that only causes the societal realities to continue. We are not yet a post-racial society as some would suggest, therefore more work is yet to be done.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s quest for “Strength to Love” reminds me to continue to love others even through the experience of anger and outrage – and this love is to be for all.
The question in all of this is will we care enough to be disturbed to the point where inaction is nearly impossible?
By now, many have heard of the story of the Ohio woman who was sentenced to jail time for falsifying records to send her children to a better school though it was outside of the scope of her residency. Though I normally don’t dive into topics such as this, it is difficult for me to remain silent. The story of Kelley Willians-Bolar grabbed my heart and simply left me shaking my head.
Without a doubt, it cannot be denied that a crime was committed. And for that there must be a consequence. However, in this case any sane and humane individual would have to beg the question – “Did the punishment fit the crime?” Not only so, there are some larger issues in this case that we can gloss over if we decide to simply place all of the emphasis on Williams-Bolar’s actions. Issues such as
1. A broken educational system – if the school environment where her children should have attended were better quality and equally resourced, would her actions be the same?
2. Issues of poverty and inequality – The climb out of poverty is no easy climb, especially within a system that has been historically unequal. No matter how far we have come in the issues of class and race, the reality is that we have lots more ground to cover. I believe that Williams-Bolar is just another example of a single parent trying to figure out how to make the climb out and up. Of course now, because she has been “made an example of” it will now be even more difficult for her to move ahead.
3. A flawed and at times prejudiced judicial system – Not only does the question of race have to be raised, we also need to take into account that she is not a repeat offender – she is a mother trying to get ahead and not only care for her children, but was also attempting to better herself educationally. Again, the question is not whether a punishment should be enforced, but what type of judgment is fair and right?
On another note, as I followed this case I couldn’t help but reflect on another story in the news just days prior of a school bus driver found intoxicated while transporting multiple school children, endangering their lives and putting the lives of other drivers at risk. Her penalty – 480 hours of community service, fines, and probation with the absence of jail time.
To borrow from Elon James White:
“I’m not saying Kelley Williams-Bolar was right. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have to pay what she owes to the local government. I’m saying to make an example of a poor mother with a family on her first offense is unconscionable. To think this reasonable is to ignore the reality that we live in and the shades of right and wrong that appear in so many offenses.”
Williams-Bolar’s actions, though wrong, are only a very small part of the equation. Placing an emphasis on her actions while ignoring the circumstances that surround her actions and setting them in the proper context of societal and systemic ills is a greater offense. Judging Williams-Bolar is incomplete in that it fails to address the root causes.
What are your thoughts on this story? I would love to hear from you in the comments