In the weeks and days leading up to a jury in Sanford, Florida’s unanimous acquittal of George Zimmerman, the admitted killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, on July 13th, there were no shortage of lawyers, prosecutors and other “legal analysts” who flooded the airwaves of television and radio stations attempting to provide legal justifications for why Zimmerman was likely to be acquitted of all charges. All of these voices sought to give credence to and provide cover for the United States’ system of “justice” regardless of what the eventual outcome would be (though they were reasonably certain the verdict would result in a Zimmerman acquittal). These legal analysts were attempting to lay the path down for a legal rationale to carry the day, and prevent members of the public from feeling that they live under a criminal “justice” system which operates with one set of rules for some people and another set of rules for others. But the legal analysts were not the only people who felt a Zimmerman acquittal was likely on the horizon. Others were quite certain from the very beginning that the murder of Trayvon Martin would be ruled completely justifiable, but not for the reasons one might expect. Although hoping against all the odds that Martin’s killer would somehow be “brought to justice”, many of us felt that the case would fall in line with an almost unbroken pattern in American history, one that stretches back all the way to the nation’s days as merely an extension of the British colonial empire up to the very present; a pattern which places little value on the sanctity on the lives and bodies of people who are perceived as being ‘nonwhite’.
First there was NBC’s former “chief legal analyst”, Dan Abrams, who remarked during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” that there was more than enough reasonable doubt for Zimmerman to be found not guilty of any of the charges leveled against him. One of the show’s hosts, Whoopi Goldberg, wasn’t quite so naïve, and brought up the fact that it took the police nearly 2 whole months before they even decided to make an arrest. Far too often it appears as if these “legal analysts” like Abrams have little on-the-ground experience of how the laws they spend their lives learning about are actually enforced, for he responded that the police simply “didn’t think they had enough evidence.” (As if that has ever stopped them from arresting people before) Whoopi wasn’t buying it though, and brought up the fact that Zimmerman was specifically instructed by the 911 operator he was speaking with not to follow Trayvon Martin, but “he did it anyway.” To this Abrams had the nerve to respond, “He [Zimmerman] says he didn’t.” Of course, even considering for a single moment the validity of that claim requires conveniently glossing over the fact that there was an adolescent child’s bullet-ridden body lying lifeless on the ground, shot up by a man who’d only moments earlier admitted to following the young man and had to be specifically told not to. Abrams was far from alone in his prediction however. Joining him in clearing the public airwaves for what was likely to be a Zimmerman-acquittal were former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden along with criminal defense attorney Diana Tennis, making a joint TV appearance on CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper. (During the appearance Tapper apparently empathized more with members of the jury than he did with either side of the case, remarking that they’ve “had their 4th of July ruined.”) As expected, both dismissed the evidence brought forth by the prosecution in the case as being insufficient. Darden rambled on about supposed “huge holes in the prosecution’s case” while Tennis ridiculously touted “the rule of law” she believes is so unique to this country and offered up silly platitudes about how the “high burden in criminal cases” exist “for a reason, no matter what the color of any party. And in the U.S.A. you don’t get convicted typically on evidence that is not better than this.” (*) For people who are obviously quite intelligent and knowledgeable in their respective fields, one has to wonder how much of what they just said even they take seriously. The notion of being “innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt” has never been applied when it comes to Black people in this country, not 50 years ago and not today. “Reasonable doubt” meant nothing when it came to the unbelievably harsh and unjust sentencing of numerous cases involving Black defendants – many whom were framed by police and/or convicted by all-white or nearly all-white juries – among them Mumia Abu Jamal (PA), Corey Maye (MS), Reggie Clemons (MO), John Thompson (LA), Darryl Hunt (NC), Albert Florence (NJ), the Central Park 5 (NY), Kevin Cooper (CA), Troy Anthony Davis (GA), Assata Shakur (PA), Stanley “Tookie” Williams (CA), the Angola 3 (LA), The Scott Sisters (MS), the Jena 6 (LA), Kevin Byrd (TX), Ronald Jones (IL), Habib Wahir Abdal (NY), Earl Washington (VA), and countless, countless others whose names we may never even know. It should be abundantly clear by now that this country has always had a set of laws for wealthy and “middle class” white folks and quite another for everyone else. And yet, now more than ever there is an ever-present chorus of white people who literally shout down anyone who so much as even suggests that racism could have played a factor in George Zimmerman’s verdict or verdicts in any other case. Oftentimes, those who most strenuously insist that we live in a “post-racial” or “colorblind” society are the same ones who in reality have the luxury of ignoring race-talk altogether; the reason for this being that racism doesn’t really have a negative impact on their lives at all. If anything they’ve mostly benefited from it, though you’d be hard-pressed to get one of them to own up or admit to this fact.
As with everything that gathers a large share of media attention these days, the court’s verdict had everyone with a Twitter, Facebook, or other social media account voicing their opinions. The responses ranged from one side of the emotional spectrum to the next, with many people, including myself, expressing outrage (even if we weren’t all that surprised). There were also those who were a bit more passive, saying that everything will turn out alright in the end if we just leave it in “God’s hands.” While this is obviously a well-intentioned approach, it is simply not enough to sit and hope that Zimmerman will “answer to God in the end” while there are simultaneously millions of people locked up, or on probation or parole simply for possessing a few ounces of some various ‘illegal substance’. All the while people like George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony commit murder and don’t even get as much as a slap on the wrist!
Then there were, of course, the typical overtly racist comments that can unfortunately be expected to emerge every time race becomes a topic of discussion in the news. There were also more subtle and downright ignorant comments, such as those posted primarily by white people desperately trying to prove that race bears no relevancy to this discussion. One of their ways of doing this is by saying that “George Zimmerman isn’t white; He’s Mexican.” (A disturbingly large amount of people think anyone having any sort of Hispanic or Latino ancestry must be from Mexico, even though the majority of Latinos currently residing in U.S. borders were in fact born in this country. In addition to that, many of these people don’t even have ancestry in Mexico, but in Latin America, South America, or even Spain or Portugal. To the racist mind however, all of these might as well be called ‘Mexican.’) This line of argument, while factually untrue, isn’t even relevant to the discussion. Any objective observer with knowledge of contemporary cases can say with unmistakable certainty that if Trayvon had been a white child and/or if Zimmerman had been a Black man accused of hunting down a child and ruthlessly executing him, the accused perpetrator would immediately have been placed behind bars after the shooting took place, possibly even facing a death sentence.
Equally absurd are the right-wing ideologues who posted “disturbing” images of Trayvon “holding a gun,” which may or may not have been a fake. The irony in this is that a number of the people who were posting these images are people who idolize right-wing ‘icons’ like Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent – people who not only hold guns but are often professionally photographed posing with deadly assault rifles and/or machine guns! If that isn’t glorification of so-called “thug life,” then I don’t know what is.
Comments left by other, more “well-intentioned” white social media users are perhaps more revealing about the current American culture at large than are those comments that were posted by people with obvious malicious intent. You know; the ones made by people who, when discussing race, find it necessary to declare, “My best friend is Black.” Here’s one example:
My first reaction upon reading this was that, even after a vigilante hunted down and murdered an unarmed Black teenager and got away with it, somehow white people manage to make themselves out to be the victims in all this! Everything this user said was part of what has become quite a familiar pattern. It’s a line of argument I think must be born out of an inherent desire to deny that racism could possibly have unfairly benefited or privileged them in any way. This familiar trope begins by someone listing what they perceive as being their “nonracist” credentials. It goes a little something like this: “I am the least racist person you will ever meet. I even have a best friend (or a boyfriend/girlfriend or a distant cousin, etc.) who is Black. I abhor racism, and that means racism against everybody, no matter what the race, shape or form it comes in… Racism is a thing of the past. We live in the greatest and freest country in the entire world. You can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard and try hard enough. Look at Oprah. We even have an African American president. So how can you say that we’re racist?? You don’t see Italians, or Irish people, or Jews, or Asians playing the race card. Racism would be all over if such influential people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would quit bringing it up. Martin Luther King was a hero of mine, and he believed in freedom and equality for all the peoples of the earth, whether you’re black, white, red, pink, green or purple. Again, I don’t even see color.” Time and again, whenever a person of color even so much as mentions the possibility of systematic racial discrimination, they are charged with engaging in “reverse racism” or, more commonly, pulling some magical “race card” from the bottom of a deck, as if all people of color were equipped at birth with such an accessory. (**) These rhetorical tools are used while, at the same time, friendship or various associations with persons of color are touted as a sort of defense mechanism to defend oneself against charges of racism or racial bias. It can also be used to convince oneself that they do not hold racial biases. The most unfortunate of all these rhetorical schemes, however, is the redundant recital of an often misquoted line from a single speech made by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. way back in 1963. As has been written on numerous occasions, the white corporate media has been “whitewashing” Martin Luther King’s image for at least 4 decades now. The man’s life and his Dream should not be reduced to a single sentence.
What is most notable about the post cited above is the poster’s erroneous belief that racism is nothing more than “a thing of the past.” Such beliefs are just wishful thinking on the part of many people. In some cases it’s just outright being dishonest. For example, this poster’s insistence that racial profiling couldn’t have played a role in George Zimmerman having sought out Trayvon Martin and murdering him is not only false, but also brushes over the broader issues this case invokes. Specifically, there is the issue of the Sanford Police Department making no arrest in this apparent killing for an entire month after it happened. There’s also the fact that the case was tried by a nearly all-white jury while at the same time Martin was being stereotyped in the media as a violent, drug-abusing “gangster”, although in reality, he only carried a bag of skittles and an iced tea when Zimmerman attacked him. The fact that Trayvon Martin’s life was so easily dismissed as unworthy of being protected by the very system that promised him his “constitutional” rights is representative of an entire culture in which Black lives and bodies are seen as being of less value and worth than those of whites. Although George Zimmerman may have been acquitted in Florida, this trial could have been held anywhere from California to New Jersey and the verdict would have been exactly the same. (^) Zimmerman is not an anomaly. He is but the latest in a long line of fairly recent murderers of Black victims who have been acquitted by all-white or nearly all-white juries. Trayvon Martin, on the other hand, joins a list of murdered Black victims whose assassins have never been brought to justice – including Aiyana Stanley Jones (MI), Chavis Carter (AR), Sean Bell (NY), Oscar Grant (CA), Fred Hampton (IL), Mario Romero (CA), Henry Glover (LA), Amadou Diallo (NY), Alan Blueford (CA), Ramarley Graham (NY), Danroy Henry (NY), Kimani Gray (NY), in addition to many, many others. Sadly, this is similarly the case even when victims of police violence are still alive to share their accounts of being savagely beaten. Not one of the men who severely damaged the bodies of Jordan Miles (PA), Chad Holley (TX), Rodney King (CA), Adam Tatum (TN), Michael Mineo (NY), Shaun Monroe (LA), Albert Flowers (FL), Tremaine McMillian (FL), or Abner Louima (NY) have spent a day in a jail cell. If cops cannot be held accountable for their actions, what logical argument is there for others being held to account for their own?
At times, the line separating the arguments made by more “well-intentioned” commentators from those made by the bona fide white supremacists is frightfully thin. For example, let’s take a look at some of the comments made by former American rock-star, Ted Nugent. While this man is basically irrelevant as far as cultural influence goes, he serves as the perfect case-study for conducting an analysis of the ways in which the white supremacist mind frame is works in the 21st century. In the immediate aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal, Nugent took to any right-wing media outlet that would hear him and attempted to pour salt in Trayvon Martin’s parents’ freshly opened wounds, launching an array of attacks on them and their slain son. He defended what he called George Zimmerman’s “right” to hunt and kill their son, and said it was time for them to “own up” and admit that their “dope-smoking, racist, gangsta wannabe… enraged black man-child” son had “brought about his own demise.” Furthermore, he urged the admitted killer Zimmerman to sue both Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton for “the actions of their son.” Despite spieling some of the cruelest and most heartless comments imaginable, Nugent still insists he is not a racist… His insistence is less than reassuring however. Why even the Ku Klux Klan believes that they aren’t racist these days. What Nugent’s comments and the comments made by the “well-intentioned” poster from the previous paragraph have in common are that both explicitly make the case that anti-Black discrimination suddenly ceased to exist from the 1960’s onward, as if a mere flip of a switch was somehow able to eradicate what over 300 years of white racism and oppression had done. The similarities don’t end there, however. The article in which Ted Nugent wrote the majority of all this trash he recently spewed was tragically yet predictably titled… wait for it…“What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Do?” (You just can’t make this shit up can you?)
Adding insult to injury were comments made by Fox’s Geraldo Rivera in addition to an op-ed piece that was posted in the supposedly liberal Washington Post. The piece, written by failed CNN host Kathleen Parker, was an exercise in some of the most profound ignorance when it comes to writing about racial profiling. In an apparent bid to revive her faltering career, Parker opines that “African Americans are right to perceive that Martin was followed because he was black, but it is wrong to presume that recognizing a racial characteristic is necessarily racist.” What?! Seriously?! How can following someone else and being suspicious of them simply because they’re Black not amount to racial profiling?! Real nice try Kathleen, but the gig with Fox News you so desire and hope you get a chance to audition for is, in all likelihood, already being reserved for George Zimmerman.
All of this brings us to the now-infamous Juror B37. The juror, whose identity remains largely under wraps, seemingly prides herself in being a firm champion of the defendant, “George”, whom she repeatedly refers to on a first-name basis. In between discussing possible book deals and defending the conflicting accounts Zimmerman gave to police, she managed to shed crocodile tears for Trayvon Martin and his family during a live interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. She insisted rather persistently that race did not play a role either in “George’s” hounding of Trayvon Martin or in the shooting’s aftermath. In fact, race was never brought up at all during any of the jury’s deliberations. When asked to provide further reasoning for the jury’s non-guilty verdict, she expressed her emotional reactions to “George’s” “witnesses”, who she believed were more inclined to “know this stuff”, as opposed to Trayvon’s Martin witnesses, especially Rachael Jeantel, whom she regarded as “not so credible.” The amount of personal affection and admiration Juror B37 expressed for George Zimmerman was a bit odd to say the least. She spoke of him using some very endearing language, such as her statement that “George” always has his “heart in the right place.” She even went so far as to say that she’d feel absolutely “comfortable having George” as her “neighborhood watch captain.” When asked about the 911 Operator who specifically instructed Zimmerman not to follow Martin, she said she believed that the Operator was somehow “trying to egg him on.” With the amount of statements beginning with “George said” this or “George said” that, one is tempted to forget that Zimmerman actually never took the witness stand during the entire course of the trial.
If you have any doubt as to what the mind frame of Juror B37 was like, then look no further than what she had to say about people who aren’t satisfied with the jury’s “non-guilty” verdict. She is absolutely bewildered and disheartened by “riots” that are supposedly happening in Sanford, Florida right now as we speak, presumably organized at the behest of Trayvon Martin’s supporters. There’s just one problem with her assessment though… There are not any riots taking place in Sanford, FL, nor have there been any at any time since the verdict was been delivered! There were, however, plenty of peaceful protests that sprung up in during the immediate aftermath of what Martin supporters and civil rights advocates alike feel was a gravely unjust verdict. To call these “riots” though is quite the stretch of the imagination. But for people like Juror B37 and Ted Nugent, it doesn’t appear to really make much of a difference whether these demonstrations are peacefully organized acts of civil disobedience or all-out riots. They don’t like resistance to white colonial privilege no matter what the form. It isn’t in their interests to care or understand what’s at the heart of all this suffering and pain. They view this country’s long history of racist oppression as a mere rhetorical tool to be used only as a means of shaming Black people into believing they now live in a “post-racial society.” After all, if we are going to be perfectly honest, racism doesn’t negatively impact the overall well-being of white America today at all, and never has. Racism since its very inception was used as a means for white people to enrich themselves at the expense of all others. This entire myth about supposed “reverse racism” is just that… a myth.
* Almost identical arguments were made in the aftermath of the notorious acquittal of former mother Casey Anthony, also in the state of Florida, for the murder of her 2-year old daughter Caylee and the subsequent cover-up. This was in spite of an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing towards her guilt. She initially claimed to be unaware of her daughter’s whereabouts (although her daughter was not even reported missing until after an entire month went by, and she was only reported missing after Casey Anthony’s mother reported to the police she had not seen her granddaughter in over a month and could smell the odor of a dead body in the back of Casey’s car. She later laughably changed her testimony to say it smelled more like “rotten pizza” than a corpse.), only to subsequently claim she left Caylee with the fictional “Zanny the Nanny”, whose whereabouts she couldn’t share because she was being threatened. She could, however, confirm that Caylee was alive, she said. Later, after Caylee’s body was found, she and her lawyers changed her story to reflect that she had known the entire time that her daughter was dead but the death had been accidental. Supposing that to be the truth, why was the corpse’s mouth duct-taped? If this woman isn’t guilty of murder then I guess nobody is.
** The so-called “race card” is another one of those tired old tropes that have little to actually do with reality. Who would be the beneficiary of such a “card” in the first place? As John Legend put it back in 2009 during an appearance on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 when he was asked about a right-wing commentator’s having accused President Obama of trying to incite a “race war” – “The opponents of the president’s agenda want this to be a ‘race war’, because Blacks lose a ‘race war’ because we’re only 12% of the country.”
^ So much focus has been placed on the repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law that I worry the focus is being drawn away from the systematic injustice that is inherent in our system. The law is indeed a horrendously bad law, and by all means it should be repealed. But whether this law was in the books or not, I believed at the beginning of this notorious case and I continue to maintain, that based on knowledge of contemporary cases from all across the nation, that this acquittal would likely have happened regardless of which state or region it had occurred or been tried in.