The Sad Case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

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The defense has rested its case in the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman, a man on trial for the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, whom he claims he killed in self-defense. The next few days will have closing arguments, and then Zimmerman’s fate will be in the hands of the jury. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

It is always deeply saddening to see anyone lose their life. What makes it even sadder is that race played at least a partial role in Zimmerman’s choice to initially follow Martin.

This is an important point I want to touch on. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, and had only Skittles and green tea. He was on his way to his father’s house. He also appears to have been genuinely frightened when he saw Zimmerman following him, not knowing why. It is almost a certainty that what triggered Zimmerman’s suspicion was his being black, and wearing a hoodie. There is a reason that it is so believable that he was being profiled. And that reason is that it happens to blacks in the United States. Constant stories exist, both in the news, and personal accounts from black acquaintances, about security guards and police officers stopping them for no good reason, accusing them of preposterous things, sometimes even handing down extremely unjust punishments.

I’m about to relate an example from my own life. Although it has nowhere near the severity that the above scenarios do, it nonetheless left me with a feeling conviction I will never forget. On a spring evening when I was 17, my dad was off at a meeting, and my mom was out back working on the flowers. I was on the computer, when the doorbell rang. I looked through the blinds and saw that it was a black male. He had on basketball shorts, a sleeveless shirt with the name of a basketball team, and his hair was in corn rows. I remember shuddering. I was about to go back to the computer, when a feeling of guilt came over me. Perhaps it was what they call “white guilt”. My guilt caused me to open the door. I don’t remember much about him, but I remember his name was Marcus, he was very polite and kind, and his reason for being there was to get donation pledges for an environmental advocacy group. There’s a “suspicious activity” if there ever was one, eh? After he left, I remember my mom commenting what a hard job he had, and that a lot of the neighborhood probably didn’t even open their doors to him, due to fear. We were very glad we had a chance to talk to him. But my fear was reflective of reality in the dominant white culture of America: fear of the “other”, particularly of black skin. We have allowed the media to saturate us with images of black men as mindless brutes with physical prowess. The result has been that we fear them, and a few of us have taken our reactions to extremes, as in the case of Zimmerman’s hyper-vigilance.

Which brings me to my second point: Zimmerman almost certainly had a hyper-vigilance problem. An affidavit indicates that “Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated ‘these [expletive], they always get away’ and also said ‘these f—— punks’.” This appears to be a sign of, dare I say, paranoia. It also appears that he followed Martin even when the dispatcher told him not to. This is a man with a vendetta, and an unacceptable level of fear. And while some question the role of race, given that Zimmerman is a Hispanic and thus a minority himself, I found this to be a brilliant assessment of race relations in Florida (it’s a rarity for me to applaud the Huffington Post).

However, there appear to be issues with Trayvon Martin as well. His character has been called into question, as he appears to have been a drug user, with small traces even found in his autopsy, although it appears the amounts were negligible. He seems to have had a belligerent streak, and also was a sporadic truant. Although the judge has ruled many of these things inadmissible by the defense, they are things to consider. Legitimate questions have also been raised regarding whether the arrest was due to an honest reexamination of the facts, or whether it was to appease an increasingly irate public.

Here is, in a nutshell, what I think happened: Zimmerman, out of his hyper-vigilance, decided to follow Martin, wanting very badly to “put that punk in his place,” so to speak. Martin caught on, and began verbally confronting him, with Zimmerman verbally firing back. It’s at that point that it becomes fuzzy for me. It’s not clear whether Zimmerman then backed off, only to be then pursued and physically confronted by Martin (Zimmerman did have a broken nose and numerous lacerations), resulting in him shooting Martin, or whether Zimmerman escalated the confrontation and tried to restrain and/or incapacitate Martin.

Having looked at these facts, I am now going to go on the record and say that I believe Zimmerman will be acquitted. I believe that the defense has managed to sow a reasonable doubt into the minds of the jury for two primary reasons:

1. They’ve managed to make the initial picture of Martin as a “fine young man” seem highly questionable, and made him increasingly seem like the type to initiate aggression.

2. Witness accounts differ strongly on which of them appeared to be the aggressor. They cannot even agree which one was on top in the scuffle, or which one’s voice is screaming for help. All they have to do is establish the prosecution’s lack of conclusive proof that Zimmerman was the primary aggressor.

Regardless of outcome, it is time for white America to wake up to the reality of racism, alive and well in 2013. Regardless of Zimmerman’s precise motivations, it is far too often that blacks are viewed suspiciously, and often downright mistreated, for what ultimately boils down to their skin color. Going back to my story about Marcus, many white people often say, “Well, they shouldn’t dress like that if they don’t want to be viewed suspiciously!” (the same can be said about Martin’s hoodie). However, we forget how easy it is for us to say that, since it is OUR clothing that has the status of normativity, and ultimately up to US, as the majority, to decide who looks suspicious. The Hispanic perspective also, in my opinion, has not been heard at all throughout this controversy. The time has come that we must listen to one another’s story’s, and do our best to work together to overcome these prejudices. As the old spiritual goes, we must continue “climbing Jacob’s ladder, to the sky.”

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. -Proverbs 21:15

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