I guess it is time for me to say something about the Zimmerman “not guilty verdict.” It’s been almost sixteen months since I first mentioned Trayvon Martin. During those months I have spoken publicly about the case, been interviewed by multiple reporters and sat on panels discussing race and criminal justice. One of the reporters I’ve dealt with for over a year called me this week. I guess we needed to bring closure to our year long conversations and I’m sure he was searching for answers as to how the verdict could come in as it did. I reminded him that in probably our first or second conversation, I told him that the best the parents of Trayvon Martin could hope for was that some bill with his name on it would be passed in Florida because there was little probability of a guilty verdict.
As usual, my take on this issue is just a little different. Yes, the outpouring of grief and shock at the verdict is understandable. Those poor parents lost their child again in that court room and yes, it sends the message that the lives of our black sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and uncles have little value in the face of deeply held stereotypical and racist views about the inherent criminality of black people. I think people who follow me are pretty sophisticated on these issues but for anyone who doesn’t get why Zimmerman’s actions can be racist, let me just explain quickly. Regardless of whether Zimmerman identified himself as Hispanic/Latino, he can still be racist. Latinos come in all colors and can hold all kinds of beliefs infused by racism. This is not a new concept and there is plenty of literature, both anectodal as well as empirical, about racism within the Latino community, both towards other Latinos as well s towards other ethnic groups. So please, let us not be ignorant about the complexity of racism.
To me the real question about the case is why did black communities across the country think Zimmerman was going to be convicted? Do you not remember Bernhard Goetz, Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind – the cops who beat Rodney King, the scores of police in NY who routinely kill black men with impunity? It is amazing to me that in a time when every single right we fought for during the civil rights movement has been systematically undone, we as a people still hang on to the hope that if we just let justice take its course, we will be vindicated. That’s nonsense. But it does go to show how far we have moved from our histories of activism to sitting comfortably on the sidelines with our big screen TVs, thinking we have made it. The black people who grew up in Florida in the 1950’s knew a white man could kill them if he wanted to. The same was true in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. The killing got slicker in the 80’s and 90’s but it still happened. Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that its different now. It is not, its just that the march to the “not guilty” is slower and more public.
I watched Al Sharpton’s press conference the other day. I don’t mind admitting I’m not a big fan of Sharpton, but he was on point like I’ve never seen him be on point before. He announced the beginning of a political and legal campaign to go after the states who adopt these “Stand Your Ground” laws and after the lobbyists who promote them. The campaign will start in Florida. The goal is to demand that we be treated as full citizens with the same right to life that every other citizen has. Wake up black folks. If you want to put meaning to the death of this young man, let it propel you off your sofas and from in front of those TVs. Let it remind you that in this America we have never gotten any rights without a fight. A reinvigorated, political activism.. now that would be a much better tribute to Trayvon than anything the state of Florida could do.
…just something I was thinking about …