I must say, I have been purposeful in keeping my mouth shut regarding the criminal prosecution of George Zimmerman for the Trayvon Martin shooting. I have done so because I realized early on that this was going to go far beyond a trial on the facts and was destined to settle into a much more uncomfortable place – a commentary on racial inequities and biases in society. And that discussion – the discussion of endemic prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, and systematic societal white male privilege – is one that is so deep and extends itself so far for me beyond race to other areas such as the rights of women, the LGBT community, and religious freedom, that I just wasn’t prepared to go down that rabbit hole for months on end. Yet, here I am – finally at the point where I can sit silent no longer. I am overwhelmed by the distortions and the misdirection, and underwhelmed by the lack of ability of the most vocal in this discussion to cogently state the foundational issues that we face as a society regarding prejudices and biases.
I will say at the outset that I am not an “expert” on this case. I have not followed this religiously via any specific media outlet. I assumed from the outset that the truth in this matter would be ferreted out in the courtroom, while the drama and distortion would be played out in the media. I feel validated in my initial assumptions on both fronts.
For those who have only caught snippets of this case I encourage checking out the Wikipedia page on the Shooting of Trayvon Martin . I would typically not recommend Wikipedia as a site for information, but in this case I do as the sourcing is very detailed and the 911 call segment links are posted there as well – it allows folks to get a decent synopsis of events (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Trayvon_Martin). I think that this page helps add clarity to timelines, the media’s role, and the ultimate circumstances that led to Trayvon Martin’s death.
As for the validity of the verdict in this matter – I trust that the jury made the correct decision given the facts and law. There was never going to be a good outcome from this trial – the shooting was a tragic culmination of many disparate events that came together to create the perfect storm. In the end, a 17 year old was dead, a man who set out to help keep his neighborhood safe was put on trial, and the entire country became embroiled in a unproductive and often polarized black and white discussion that neither advanced understanding, nor created an effective foundation for forward movement. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the circus that the whole case became actually took our country a couple steps back and created entrenchment where there was none in the past.
Here is the thing folks – we have a way as a species of favoring our own – people who we perceive to be like us. We also have a history of disparaging and distancing others that we acknowledge as different with a belief that they are either less able, inferior, or operating under an undesirable moral code. It makes our species sound very unattractive, I know…but it is who we are. The real question here is – can we evolve and make this part of who we were? And if the answer is yes, then we need to step back and take a good hard look at the inequities that our species has created and perpetuated and commit to addressing them.
I used to believe that all these issues would work themselves out over time. I used to believe that equality of treatment and opportunity would become a reality for people of all colors, faith, gender, and sexual preference over time. I used to believe that evolution was inevitable.
I am older and maybe wiser – or maybe just more acutely aware of the true complexities that are involved in changing a world rife with realities and practices that perpetuate inequity. If I was the Czar of Equality for the United States, I would focus my efforts in four key areas: addressing poverty; using education as both a stepping stone toward equality and as a messenger of equality; eradicating urban blight; and, revamping the criminal justice system. Just from that one sentence you can probably already tell that this is a complex and multilayer approach that will take years to fully implement. This approach seeks to change society’s framing of others via access and re-socialization. That doesn’t happen in a day, month, year, or presidential term – it requires a long term commitment to principles and processes the likes of which are imbedded in our constitution. This requires an evolution of U.S. society that is bigger than a social program or the mere appointment of a Czar of Equality – this requires a commitment to a different America for every American – man, woman, child, Black, White, Hispanic, Native, Asian, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – of every faith.
The Martin-Zimmerman case was a tragedy on many fronts, but the biggest tragedy is that an opportunity is being lost here to start the process to creating a more equitable society. I personally do not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, but I do think society set the stage for what happened the night Martin was killed and all the outcry that has happened since. Justice, in the context of racial equity, was neither delivered nor denied in the trial. The inequities that people of color and others are left with as a reality of living in a society still richly permeated with white male privilege, ignorance, and ineffective governmental action need to be addressed beyond the flash of a media cycle or a political campaign. We, the people, are the solution to these inequities – we must make the commitment as a collective to become a better society for not only ourselves and our children, but also for our grandchildren and their children.
Day one thousand four hundred and seventy-five of the new forty – obla di obla da