Sunday, July 14, 2013

Race in America

I'm white.  That fact has shaped my experience of life from day one.  I grew up in a mixed neighborhood in the city and experienced the civil rights era as a child.  I know what racism looks like and I've experienced it up close and personal... from my side of the equation.  As I look at the USA today, I see that we have come a long way in regards to race, but anyone who thinks race is a non-issue is naive, blind, or just plan stupid.

Yesterday a verdict of not guilty was handed down in the George Zimmerman trial.  I wasn't there to hear the testimony or arguments so I can't make a judgement as to whether or not that was a reasonable verdict.  I can say that it was all about race.  Had the races of the two parties been reversed and a black man had shot and killed an unarmed white teen walking home from the store, the arrest would have happened immediately and the trial would have been short and to the point with that black adult now in jail.  Everything about that evening had to do with race.  I would guess that Zimmerman may have been afraid, but was that fear reasonable?  No.  It was based on racial stereotypes and prejudices.  Had the boy been white, Zimmerman would not have even noticed him.  And I am positive that Trevon Martin was afraid.  My black male friends have all told me that from the time they were little boys their parents ingrained in them that they could only walk in certain ways and act in certain ways when in public or they would be profiled and could end up being victims of violence, often times from the very police who were supposed to be protecting them.  They were warned that at times, one could die for Walking Around Black or Driving While Black.  Martin was walking home, being followed by someone in an SUV.   He knew the possibilities.

There is no way that I could minimize the terrible thing that George Zimmerman has done and I cannot but hold him responsible for the events of that evening.  He took the life of a young man with no reasonable justification.  (That he went on Fox News and said that it was God's will that he be there only infuriates me more).  Still, the situation is not so simple as one racist man acting out.  The events of that night and the jury verdict are indicative of a sickness in our culture where black youth are devalued to the point that one can be killed with virtually no ramifications.  We have a legal system that incarcerates young men of color  at nearly 10 times the rate of white men.  Through them in jail and take away any hope of a future.  A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.  Every measure shows that African American men are more likely to experience injustice in the legal system.  I believe that is simply an indicator of societal values.

6 comments:

Michael Mahoney said...

I'm guessing you didn't follow the trial all that closely. It's a bit disappointing, actually. You seem swayed by the press and the anger swirling around, most of it by people who couldn't tell you the first thing about the case.

Like, for instance, that George Zimmerman is not white. He's Hispanic. Which, BTW, makes him more of a minority in Seminole County and Sanford in particular than Martin was. That there was definitely a fight between the two men. Who started it, no one knows. There are conflicting eyewitness reports. There is inconclusive physical evidence. There were definite injuries to Zimmerman, but no clear picture of how or when he got them.

In other words, no proof of anything. Which is the point.

This is not a case about race, Roy. Not at all. Regardless of what Zimmerman's motivations were or were not. You don't know, and neither do I. What I do know, is no one could prove that George Zimmerman was not in fear for his safety or his life. No one could prove he went after Martin. No one could prove he didn't try to get away.

And since no one could prove it, the verdict is correct. To quote a (great) movie, "Those are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed."

Everything else is window dressing in this case. The criminal justice system is not supposed to be about emotion. It's supposed to be about fact. On its best days, it's color blind, as it should be. And that cuts both ways. They shouldn't acquit Zimmerman because he is Hispanic, and they shouldn't convict him because Martin is black. They should let the evidence speak, and it did.

This case is about boundaries and about proper responses. Did Zimmerman cross a line? More than likely. Did he go to far? Probably. But that is speculation, not fact. He might have been in danger, and he might have not been the aggressor, and that's enough. This will go on with possible federal charges (though I doubt it) and civil suits (count on it).

Vengeance is not our job, Roy. George Zimmerman should not bear the sins of all those before him who got off by (truly) racists juries and cops. He should not carry the penalty for the death of every young black man killed in Florida.

This case is about what was in his mind and heart, and he'll have to answer for that some day. That's not our job. Be at peace, my friend.

roy said...

OK, Michael, I'll bite.

George Zimmerman is not white. He's Hispanic.

I guess what is "white" in this case really is a matter of definition, and more than that, it is how one identifies oneself and how one is identified by the broader society. Yes, Zimmerman's mother clearly looks Latina, but the father clearly looks "white." Zimmerman... doesn't sound very Latino to me. Regardless, the victim clearly was black and we live in a society that consistently devalues the lives of black folk, especially black males. The same is true of some Latinos, especially short, very dark-skinned Mexicans. Much less so with Cubanos, blue-eyed South Americans, and others who look more European. FWIW, the black population in Seminole County is 11.8% and the Latino population is 18.2% as per the 2012 Census bureau data but that is irrelevant. As Jesse Jackson once pointed out societal racism crosses racial barriers.

That there was definitely a fight between the two men. Who started it, no one knows.

Of course we do. Zimmerman chose to get out of the vehicle against the advice of the police. Had he stayed in the vehicle, there would have been no fight. Who threw the first punch? Irrelevant. If Zimmerman was in danger, he put himself in that position. He was the aggressor. And if we buy the defense arguments that he was clearly physically outclassed, then a gun is a great equalizer and he confronted Martin knowing, if worst came to worst, he had a gun.

In other words, no proof of anything.

There is proof of one thing. A 17 year old is dead of a gunshot wound for absolutely no reason at all.

This is not a case about race,

I disagree. Martin would not be dead had he been white. Zimmerman would not have followed him home. No confrontation would have taken place.

This case is about what was in his mind and heart, and he'll have to answer for that some day.

But it is about more than that. It is about a black kid who is dead.

Peace... without justice is a difficult thing. I think Zimmerman played out a cultural play that could only end in tragedy... but he chose to play it out.

Michael Mahoney said...

I guess what is "white" in this case really is a matter of definition, and more than that, it is how one identifies oneself and how one is identified by the broader society.

Agreed. Most of the folks I know identify him as Hispanic, but they are Hispanic. A several of the blacks I know have called him white.

FWIW, the black population in Seminole County is 11.8% and the Latino population is 18.2% as per the 2012 Census bureau data but that is irrelevant.

Sanford is 30% Black and 20% Hispanic, according to the census. I agree, somewhat irrelevant, but it is minority-on-minority, which generally gets treated differently in the media and in the courts.

As Jesse Jackson once pointed out societal racism crosses racial barriers.

You're not going to make any points with me quoting Jesse Jackson. But at least you're not quoting Al Sharpton.

Zimmerman chose to get out of the vehicle against the advice of the police. Had he stayed in the vehicle, there would have been no fight.

So Treyvon Martin can walk anywhere he wants (which I agree, he can) but George Zimmerman has to stay in his car?

Martin would not be dead had he been white. Zimmerman would not have followed him home. No confrontation would have taken place.

You don't know that, and neither do I. In fact, if I were to be bluntly honest, people who say that are just as guilty of "profiling" as they assume Zimmerman is.

Peace... without justice is a difficult thing.

Oh, now you've done it. Now you're quoting Sharpton.

BTW, I am not saying that Zimmerman was justified. At all. What I am saying is that there is a reasonable path one can take to the conclusion he might have been. You don't have to believe it, you don't have to like it, but you can get there. That being the case, the jury had no choice but to reach the verdict they did. "Better ten guilty men go free..." and all that. (that was William Blackstone, for the record)

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what color GZ is the bottom line is that he is not black. No one said that a person has to be white to commit a racist act against black person. Minorities can be racist against other minorities because one race may think they are above the other.

Anonymous said...

If Zimmerman stayed in his car there definitely would not have been any confrontation. There was would be such a slim chancebof their paths crossing for what ever reason it is pretty safe to say tge confrontation would not have taken place.

Lady (Bug) / Grammy said...

Hi Roy,

First of all, I would like to say that I whole-heartedly agree with you and I'm only sorry that I didn’t know about this post sooner. But, here is why I feel the way I do and from this point on, I will be using the term "you" in a general sense to reach out to those who don't understand why people are upset about the verdict.

In my mind, NO ONE except a police officer has a "legal right" to chase, detain, follow, harass, persue, question, or stop ANYBODY, no matter what their skin color is--not even the "neighborhood watch guy". All anyone has to do in this situation is ask themselves, what they would have done if George had approached them the way he did Trayvon? I don't know what's going on in the state of Florida, but I live in Philadelphia, PA. And, yes... we have more than our share of crime here, but I'm a law-abiding citizen. So, I don't feel I owe any other common citizen, no matter how well-intentioned they are, any explanation as to why I am where I am, what I'm doing there, or when I plan to leave because truth be told, it's really none of their business. I believe that is why the 911 operators specifically told George not to follow Trayvon. No one seems to understand that when George continued to persue Trayvon solely based on his appearance and what he "thought" he might do (i.e. "He was up to no good."), he had indeed crossed the line of violating Trayvon's civil rights because George was NOT a police officer. Again, this situation is not complicated. Just ask yourself what you would have done if George "the neighborhood watch guy" had followed and approached you? Yes, some may have "humored" him with responses to his questions, but make no mistake... others would have let him know from the door that they owed him NO explanations. If at that point, George continued to press the issue with you, what would your reaction have been? So, I think it's safe to say that things would have gotten out of hand no matter "who" George was following. Now, if it were you, are we to also believe that you feel George had the right to shoot you... and, in particular, if you were unarmed? See, the real problem here is, no one is putting themselves in the position of Trayvon. Once you do that, it all becomes crystal clear. George really had no "legal right" to do any of the things he did to Trayvon and I would say the same if were you, period.

Good post!