On the surface, this case was about a man, George Zimmerman, accused of the murder of a young boy, Trayvon Martin. But so much more was at stake for society than one man’s guilt or innocence. On trial were Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws, race relations in the United States, and the entire judicial system. And even more than that, common sense was on trial. And with the “not guilty” verdict, the jurors failed on all counts.
A guilty verdict for Zimmerman would have meant the Castle Doctrine was guilty as well of the murder of an innocent, unarmed teenager. It would have meant that no person could claim self-defense to justify murder simply because someone felt threatened by the color of someone’s skin. Late last year, another young black man, Jordan Davis, was murdered by a white man, Michael Dunn, at a Florida gas station over an argument about loud music. Dunn also cited self-defense in that situation. The not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial now gives license to any racist white person in the state of Florida (or any other state with similar laws, like Wisconsin, where another young black man, Bo Morrison, was murdered by a white man, Adam Kind, who also cited the state’s Castle Doctrine to justify his actions) to murder black people without legal ramifications.
The not guilty verdict also makes black people who were already distrusting of the US justice system even more skeptical. So often, black people are victims of racial profiling and brutality by police officers, whether it’s “routine” traffic stops or “mistaken identity” in drug trafficking cases. Black people are murdered as criminals by the law for innocently living their lives. Now, we must contend with the fact that any community with a volunteer neighborhood watch can get away with murdering us too for wearing the wrong clothes after dark. And while Lady Justice turns her blind eye, we become systemically and systematically erased.
For anyone to deny that black people are at war with this country, this trial and verdict makes it crystal clear that we are victimized every day by this country. We are the victims of a war that was declared against us centuries ago, but never officially publicized. This is America’s Race War, often engaged through battles in the war on drugs, welfare, poverty, the education system, the legal system, racism, self-hate and self-denial, psychological conditioning, and “color blindness.” It involves the disintegration of the family unit and gender wars pitting mothers against “baby daddies” and the emasculation of black men within our homes and in society. It perpetuates the “divide and conquer” tactics employed centuries past by slave owners to create hatred among the slaves, between the house negroes and field negroes, between the light and dark-skinned people, between the old and the young. They let us tear each other down and use the justice system to finish off the survivors. They fill our heads with “dreams” of integration, of a society where one would be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, to make us foolishly believe that this country would embrace us as its own children.
They use these tools to perpetually keep us down, even if a few manage to rise up. Yet, many who rise have often sacrificed too much of themselves to get there. Among the sacrifices might be one’s own culture, family or friends, and self. The fight to the top might involve relentless struggles through nearly impossible odds to prove that they belong among the elite of a society that never wanted them. But this verdict, cast by five white women and a Hispanic woman, reaffirms the fact that black people and America are not one and the same.
The jurors had a chance to make history by proving that sometimes, what’s morally right is greater than what’s legally right – in the event that the two are mutually exclusive. They had the chance to say that even if George Zimmerman had shot in self-defense, that had he not initiated the situation by following Trayvon against the suggestion of the emergency dispatcher on the phone, Trayvon Martin would still be alive. They had the opportunity to show that even if Martin had been the aggressor and attacked Zimmerman unprovoked, use of deadly force against an unarmed teenager by an adult capable of defending himself without weapons was not justified. These jurors had the chance to prove that common sense can outweigh the best defense. These jurors could have given black people reason to trust the justice system in an unjust case. And on all counts, these six women failed us.