Trayvon Martin tragedy’s lesson: ‘Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed’



MellaneoussquareSomeone once said, to describe the state of race relations near the end of the 20th century, “Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed.” That may be the best way to sum up the Trayvon Martin tragedy. At bottom, as in the case of Dred Scott over 150 years ago, it’s apparent that Black folks “have no rights that Whites [particularly the system] are bound to respect.”

The Trayvon Martin verdict at bottom is disturbing, beyond the fact that Zimmerman got away with what may have been murder. As it turns out, this whole thing was about the prejudice and bias of the system.

The trial exposed a prejudicial judicial system whose prejudice is to prefer White over Black, rich over poor, and native citizen over immigrant. In the case of the trial of George Zimmerman, that same system was now being asked to defend the type of person that it constantly slam-dunks.

Their hearts weren’t in it. It reminded me of the trial of the men who murdered Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner, the Civil Rights workers murdered in 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi.  Clearly the prosecution’s heart wasn’t in it, and those who may have cared were handicapped by their colleagues’ lack of enthusiasm.

We saw it live, and if we didn’t know, we had lots of legal analysts telling us “They are blowing it.” Every day there was mistake after mistake. These same folks who are lions when it comes to putting Black boys like Trayvon behind bars were mere pussycats in the Zimmerman trial.

In fact, the prejudice of the system caused them to not charge Zimmerman initially, and when they did act they behaved like spoiled children, saying, “OK, we will do it, but we will do it halfheartedly since you are making us do it. The second-degree murder charge assured that he was going to walk.

A conscientious prosecution, a State that had our best interest at heart, would have realized that some violation of the law occurred in this exchange and would have charged him with a lesser manslaughter charge, something that they could have proven. But that was just the point: the State, the government, doesn’t have our best interest at stake. Those who disagree are going to have a difficult time proving otherwise.

Even the head of our government demonstrated his biases by his silence. Since the verdict he has not said the obvious, as he has done in other recent tragedies in the U.S. like the Newtown massacre. No, the heads of government, even its chief law enforcer, want you to believe that we ought to respect the verdict simply because it was legal.

It may indeed have been legal. Slavery was legal; so was Apartheid, so was Jim Crow, and so was the oppression of women. It was legal, but it wasn’t right.

The tragic verdict also revealed some of our fellow citizens’ prejudice and that they are still drinking the Kool-Aid that’s made out of biased television, media, and a Eurocentric educational bias in our school system. All of which portray a dim view of Black folks.

How else can we explain some Whites’ gleeful reaction to Zimmerman being found not guilty? Some comments after the verdict were quite hateful. And how can anyone be happy about the death of young person? There has to be a deep-seated prejudice that would motivate one to come on to a comment page and speak definitively about the facts of a case that we may never know the truth about.

It was interesting to see how the bias of some of our neighbors allowed them to overlook the basic problems with Zimmerman’s behavior that night. He got out of his vehicle, he called the police on someone who was minding his own business, and we have only Zimmerman’s word that Trayvon looked out of place and appeared to be peeking into windows.

This trial and this tragedy revealed a deep-seated resentment of Black people. What else explains some people’s refusal to look at all sides of this struggle? To them, Trayvon was a thug rather than a teenager who was not perfect; most teens aren’t. Ironically, it was Zimmerman who had a record of assault.

Yet some, like juror B37, were sure Trayvon attacked Zimmerman first, and they even refused to consider that Trayvon may have felt he was in danger and attacked Zimmerman out of fear. Some crazed White commenter said the forensics proved that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman. Really? Race prejudice makes people crazy.

It revealed as well that some people are so set on their own agendas that they wouldn’t let themselves see that the injustice that occurred in this case is actually as grave, in fact even graver, than Black folks shooting one another, because this was the government letting someone get away with killing a Black person. Even in so-called Black-on-Black crime, perpetrators are sought and charged the vast majority of the time.

In this instance, the perpetrator was allowed to go free on his word even though a young Black man had been killed. It gives us an opportunity to look the system in which we live squarely in the eye. And to those with the guts to acknowledge the truth, I say get busy trying to plot a new path for a new society, one that protects and provides for all of its citizens.

And make no mistake: Trayvon’s rights were abridged because the system refused to see him as a human being.


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