The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury’s performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair. The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy, for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming. It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have done very little to arrest.
If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford. Those that do not, those that hold the pain and betrayal inside and somehow manage to resist violence — these citizens are testament to a stoic tolerance that is more than the rest of us deserve. I confess, their patience and patriotism is well beyond my own.
Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies: Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible. I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.
Media on the left, right and center have been fanning the flames of fear-mongering, speculating that people—and black people especially—will take to the streets. That fear-mongering represents a deep white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman’s fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat. But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety. The anxiety that black men feel every time they walk outside the door—and the anxiety their loved ones feel for them as well. That white anxiety serves to conceal the real public threat: that a black man is killed every twenty-eight hours by a cop or vigilante.
Had the roles been reversed, had an adult black man pursued and then killed a white teenager in the street, you can bet a million dollars that the verdict would have been different. The simple, stark fact is that we don’t have equal justice in America today, 50 years after the March on Washington. What we have instead is a system of justice that is racist to the core.
Racist in who gets arrested.
Racist in who gets charged, and with what.
Racist in who gets convicted.
And racist in the sentencing.
Carrying a deadly weapon in public should carry unique responsibilities. In most cases someone with a gun should not be able to escape culpability if he initiates a conflict with someone unarmed and the other party ends up getting shot and killed. Under the current law in many states, people threatened by armed people have few good options, because fighting back might create a license to kill. As the New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson puts it, “I still don’t understand what Trayvon was supposed to do.”
Unless the law is changed to deal with the large number of people carrying concealed guns, there will be more tragic and unnecessary deaths of innocent people like Trayvon Martin for which nobody is legally culpable.
Trayvon Martin is dead—and so many young men like him are dead or in prison—because in America it was his responsibility to take it. It was his responsibility to let a stranger with a gun follow him at night in his own neighborhood and suspect him of wrongdoing. It was his responsibility to apologize for being a black kid who scared people. It was not George Zimmerman’s responsibility to let a boy get home to his family.