Monday, July 15, 2013
ZIMMERMAN VERDICT REVEALS
AMERICA’S RACIAL CHASM
Justice—as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, it is:
1. The quality of being just; fairness.
2. a. The principle of moral rightness; decency.
b. Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness.
3. a. The attainment of what is just, especially that which is fair, moral, right, merited, or in accordance with law.
b. Law The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law.
c. The administration, system, methods, or procedures of law.
4. Conformity to truth, fact, or sound reason.
On Saturday, July 13, 2013, a jury of six people delivered the verdict of ‘not guilty’ concerning the trial of George Zimmerman, who was charged with 2nd degree murder regarding the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. State prosecutors had successfully given jurors an additional optional verdict, one of manslaughter, but jurors decided that Zimmerman was not criminally culpable for shooting the teenager.
“All of us are endangered, damn!” - Chuck D, “Tales from the Darkside”
The basis sketch of the case concerns this: On February 26, 2012, the then-28-year-old Zimmerman, a resident of Sanford, Florida, and the son of a retired judge, spotted Martin walking home on the night of their confrontation. Zimmerman, a self-described neighborhood watch volunteer with a concealed pistol license, called 911 and proceeded to rant about alleged criminals in the neighborhood. He was advised by police not to follow Martin, but did so anyway, apparently at one point leaving his car to pursue Martin on foot. Martin was unarmed, only having a canned beverage and a packet of candy on his person. The specifics of the fight that progressed were in dispute during the trial, including the source of a voice on a phone call that Martin made to classmate Rachel Jeantel as he was being followed by Zimmerman. Ultimately, Martin died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
“They shot down one, they shot down two, now tell me what the $&@# am I supposed to do?” Boogie Down Productions, “Love’s Gonna Getcha”
Initially, Sanford police did not charge Zimmerman with a crime, simply sending him home after a brief interview at police headquarters. The subsequent explosion of public attention brought to the case, including local demonstrations in and around Sanford prompted a special prosecutor to be appointed by Florida’s governor—months later, the investigation resulted in charges of 2nd degree murder for Zimmerman.
Racial conflict was at the forefront of this case from the beginning. The shooting victim Martin was black; Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic via his mother, who is reportedly of Cuban background. Also at issue was the so called Stand Your Ground law, which exists in Florida and dozens of other states. Effectively, the law—an extrapolation of the Castle Doctrine—says that any person who is under attack, anywhere, is at liberty to use lethal force against his or her aggressor.
“Your honor may it please the court, swear me in on a book full of 2Pac quotes..” Street Sweeper Social Club, “Fight! Smash! Win!”
In court, state prosecutors deemphasized any racial context to their portrayal of Zimmerman’s behavior. Prosecutors said that Zimmerman profiled Martin, but not racially. As the trial progressed for four weeks, numerous witnesses were called to the stand, including residents of the gated community where the incident occurred and Martin’s friend Jeantel.
The defense team “highlighted” its assertion that Martin was the aggressor in his confrontation with Zimmerman by pointing out Martin’s previous brushes with mischief: a school suspension for Marijuana residue being discovered in his book bag; a school investigation into stolen jewelry that resulted in neither suspension nor criminal charges; most spuriously, separate photographs of Martin wearing a hooded sweatshirt and smiling with a gold-plated “grill” mouth insert.
After the prosecution and defense both concluded their cases, the jury was sent to deliberation on July 12, delivering its verdict the following evening.
“They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror but what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever…” Killer Mike, “Reagan”
The ‘not guilty’ verdict spawned protests in several American cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Thus far, the public demonstrations have been largely without violent incident.
Zimmerman, legally, is a free man. Some observers, especially on social media, have expressed the idea that he will be a pariah for the rest of his life—fairly or unfairly. As of this week, the U.S. Justice Department confirmed that it have reactivated an investigation into whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights by accosting him on the night of February 26.
“It's just I'm getting heated by the way things is, who says racism ain't the same biz?” King AdRock, “Kickin’ Wicked Rhymes”
Considering the Zimmerman supporters who are now lauding him, his defense team, and even possibly the jurors to a certain conservative-culture superhero status, one suspects that their economic future may be more prosperous than not. Given what often transpires in the aftermath of such high-profile court cases, several among them may soon become published authors and paid lecturers. In the case of Zimmerman himself, his acquittal means he can bypass any sort of restrictions like the 'Son of Sam' law that prevents convicts from profiting off any sort of subsequent business deals related to their crime. Double jeopardy status is also in effect, so he cannot be tried again for the same charge.
The Martin family, who established a nonprofit foundation in Trayvon’s name, have vowed to advocate for the repeal of Stand Your Ground law. They are also exploring the possibility of a civil suit, according to Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump.
Justice, despite the dictionary definition, is a severely subjective concept. It is an abstraction, yet rooted in the deep structures of any given culture. In a country like the United States, its multicultural masses of varying ethnicities, economic strata and career conditions make for what can be wildly divergent interpretations on what justice—legal, moral and ethical—can or should be.
“Your laws are minimal… ‘cause you won’t even think about looking at the real criminal.” KRS-One, “Sound of da Police”
Justice does not exist until laws like “Stand Your Ground” are declared unconstitutional and voided. In essence, these laws (which often find their origins in the lobbying by well-funded policy think-tank organizations like The American Legislative Exchange Council) have enabled people to effectively kill others unprovoked, and provided that the incident occurs in isolation, the surviving party can create any story that fits a convenient narrative.
In the Zimmerman trial, the US justice system failed to protect one of the country's most vulnerable demographics: its children. Post-verdict statements by the defense team and others who support the acquittal seem to be not only celebrating the exoneration of Mr. Zimmerman, but also apparently celebrating the shooting death of this unarmed 17-year-old boy—who is black. As such, a ghastly, abhorrent ideology being uplifted here, the likes of which is scarcely addressed in the mainstream of the culture, but which is frequently discussed in black households: the idea that African American life is considered by the majority culture to be cheap and unworthy of mourning, and that black males in particular are assumed to be of a criminal class by their very existence, even as early as childhood.
“…But I suppose the color of my clothes match the color of my face as they wonder what’s under my waist..” - Chuck D, “Tales from the Darkside”
‘Sundown towns’ are an almost forgotten part of American history. These were cities—statistically, largely in the North and the West— and to be clear, many of them still exist—where African Americans were openly told that they were not welcome except as daytime laborers or servants. To be seen “after sundown” was to be met with arrest, assault, or, yes, murder. The Sanford police department’s already reportedly strained relationship with African Americans is perhaps now irrevocably conflated with sundown town policy. Ironically, the new chief, replacing the fired former chief Bill Lee, is Cecil Smith, who is black.
“Is it because I was caught in production, when a young black life means nothin’?” Ice Cube, “The Product”
The jury’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial reinforced the loathsome narrative that African Americans—especially if they are seen in a neighborhood where they are not the dominant ethnicity—by default are to be feared, surveilled, provoked at will, and if so desired, killed with impunity. Justice does simply not exist until cultural narratives like the one Zimmerman’s defense team promoted, and the jury to all appearances accepted—that Martin was a vicious hoodlum on a rampage with intent to commit mayhem— are also voided in the hearts and the minds of Americans writ large.