Monday, April 2, 2012

Racism and the Result

We’ve all heard the story, so I feel no need to repeat it.  I want to look at what happened after that gun went off.
A law student brought this small Florida news story to the public’s attention 11 days after Trayvon’s death from Harvard. Using the site, he published a petition, backed by the Martin family, calling for the government to “prosecute the killer of our son, 17-year-old Trayvon”. It surged to 2 million online signatures in almost a week and was receiving 300 signatures a minute at its height. The media was covering it, it had the people’s support, change was inevitable. Wasn’t it? This gets tricky. Every article or column on the subject objects to the fact that George Zimmerman has not yet been taken to trial. It seems like such an open and shut case and yet for so many reasons it’s exactly the opposite.
Harvard student posted a petition for Zimmerman's arrest on

1. The law. First of all, gun laws are crazy in Florida. The NRA has taken it to the point that anyone can walk virtually anywhere in Florida with a concealed weapon, thus, Zimmerman’s pistol. Secondly, a law known as “Stand your ground” complicates things even further. I think no one says it better than John Cloud in his TIME article, “The Law Heard Round The World”: “When a killer claims he acted in self-defense, state’s attorneys can’t get a murder conviction under 776.013 unless they prove beyond a reasonable doubt—the strictest legal standard—that the dead person did not “attack” the killer”. In other words, the court would need to be absolutely positive that Trayvon did not do anything at all to cause Zimmerman to discharge his weapon, which from Zimmerman’s bloody nose and head injuries, as well as the police’s poor choice to not take him in for further questioning immediately, will be almost impossible.

2. The perspective. Disregarding the wounds that Zimmerman said were sustained because of Trayvon’s assault on him, we need a better look at both men. Yes, I said men. The reason I emphasize this, is because every photo identifying Trayvon and Zimmerman looks something like this:

One of the most commonly used pictures to depict Martin and Zimmerman
Every photo of Trayvon is donated by his family and usually marked as “undated”. This is because all of these photos are when he is much younger and looks much less threatening. At his age of seventeen years old, however, he was over six feet tall, had recently been suspended from school and had traces of marijuana in his bag. None of these things justify his death even remotely, however, they do paint a picture in which it was more likely that he may have accosted Zimmerman, instead of simply being “an innocent kid just out for some Skittles and ice tea”.

3. The lawsuit. Look at it this way. There are many justifications for how Zimmerman could have murdered Trayvon: his violent background, his emergency calls precedent and the fact that he was carrying a gun. In a sensitive issue like this, its impossible to take a solid position for either side because I wasn’t there and neither were you. But, with the current laws, the court will have to take a stance in which any indication that Zimmerman was threatened will allow this man to go free: guilty or not.

The position America takes on this is probably the most disconcerting part of the entire case. The problem lies not in what people are doing, but why. Bringing a man to justice and finding closure for two grieving parents is a good aim, but doing it because of racism is not. Focusing on the racist aspect of Trayvon’s death is not the solution. True, Zimmerman may have been racist, true he may not have had his suspicions aroused had a white boy walked by him, but focusing on that aspect will not change anyone’s beliefs on race or bring about the catharsis the country needs after the incident. If we work for reform, we should work towards a change in gun laws, self-defense prosecutions, or police efficiency—something that, if changed, could prevent another Trayvon Martin. Instead, the Black Panthers have a $100,000 reward for the capture of Zimmerman—opposite of the Martin family wishes, two parents don’t have the closure they need, nothing is being changed to prevent another incident, a rising generation lives in fear of racism, and until this changes, Trayvon’s death doesn’t stand for anything.

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