For many of us, the verdict rendered in George Zimmerman’s trial reiterated what we already knew, but didn’t want to hear again. It reinforced a cold, hard truth that’s been repudiated throughout the Obama era. It reminded us that black people’s lives — even that of an innocent 17 year-old — are impermanent and dispensable.
In case we had forgotten it, Saturday night’s verdict told us that we still lack full citizenship as human beings.
In almost every corner in America, blacks are hunted daily by law enforcement and citizens armed with White Privilege. They’re subject to perambulation and enquiry at every turn, in every space, at any moment. And while institutional warranties like the Stand Your Ground statute Zimmerman invoked as his defense for killing Trayvon Martin and the New York Police Department’s Stop-Question-and-Frisk Program are becoming hot-button issues, this “Stop-and-Kill” culture against blacks has been around for centuries.
Its umbilical cord stretches to annals of American history that “Post-Racial” Movement proselytes tend to avoid talking about.
In the aftermath of Martin’s death, many placed their hopes for righteousness in the hands of a justice system that has historically justified white vigilantism against blacks for generations. More than any other group, we should have known better it seems, yet rallied and pled for an investigation into Zimmerman’s actions in the name of fairness and equality.
Sanford, Fla., the site of the teen’s death, became the scene of all sorts of civil rights marches.
“I want justice,” said Sybrina Fulton of her son’s murder. Justice from the legal system that has denied it to the millions of Trayvon Martins before hers.
But racism is tricky in the way it often contorts how we see things and react to them, and where we deposit our emotions — if we allow ourselves to show any at all. Like the Devil, its greatest trick is perhaps its ability to convince us that it no longer exists, or that it can be quarantined.
“This case has nothing to do with race,” both the prosecution and Zimmerman’s defense team asserted since the beginning of the investigation, while Martin’s physical appearance was the catalyst that triggered Zimmerman’s actions.
In this instance, the effects of racism left black people with nowhere to go, but to seek justice from the same judicial system that has long shielded men like Zimmerman since Martin’s ancestors were enslaved on America’s plantations.
A modern-day pattyroller is what George Zimmerman is: sanctioned by residents of that small Florida community where he killed Martin, and sheltered by the laws of the land.
The emotionalism created by the overwhelming doubt so many had about his innocence riled all of us. The absurdity of his altering accounts to Sanford Police, the inconsistencies, the sense of entitlement and lack of compassion he displayed made us angry. And rightfully so.
But it also clouded our perception of reality and made us believe that justice for a dead, innocent black boy was possible in a society that hunts his kind with proclivity.
Zimmerman’s actions on the night that he shot Martin with his 9mm handgun were not an isolated incident or a case of an overzealous night watchman in a Southern town, it was a reflection of what’s going on and of how white sees black in America. The residue is all around us. It’s on the tombs of Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ousmane Zongo, Patrick Dorismond, and the thousands who’ve been victimized by this form of domestic terrorism.
The Fear of Black Skin
The fear that killed Trayvon Martin is real. It may sound counter-intuitive in a white-dominated society, but its evidence is clear. It’s possibly the only honest statement George Zimmerman gave when he claimed he was afraid of the unarmed teenager on the night of their encounter. Black people’s mere presence among whites creates a knee-jerk reaction that breeds the type of confrontation Zimmerman and Martin had that night. It’s rooted in the axiom that blacks are violent, can’t be trusted, and must be kept in their place. And though conservatives and Zimmerman-apologists have pointed to his Hispanic background to counter claims that racism played a role, the reality is Zimmerman’s skin color affords him authority when it comes to blacks.
Blackness in white spaces is seen as a threat to this privilege and creates angst along the fault line of the American way of life. It’s been contested with Black Codes, Jim Crow, Separate But Equal, and actions like what took place on the night of Trayvon Martin’s murder.
Since Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the White House, gun ownership has soared among whites who believe his ascension to the Presidency is an indicator to America’s destruction.
As such, even if George Zimmerman had been found guilty of all charges, it wouldn’t have changed any of this. It wouldn’t have cured the pervasive aversion for Blackness that exists in white communities around the country. It wouldn’t have compelled those who benefit from the privilege Zimmerman was afforded to relinquish it.
It certainly wouldn’t have proven that young black men aren’t criminals who “always get away” as Zimmerman stated during his original 911 call to police. And it certainly wouldn’t have exonerated racism and all of the inherent injuries it’s caused.
The legacy of slavery runs too deep, the damage done is too painful. It can’t be redeemed by a single act or rectified by the system. Not this one. Not for us.
Jean McGianni Celestin is a senior writer at The Haitian Times who focuses on culture, race, sports and politics. He is the co-writer of the screenplay for an upcoming motion picture about African-American revolutionary hero, Nat Turner. Follow him on Twitter; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.