Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Acquittal of George Zimmerman

There was a verdict, but before that there was the death of a teenage boy. We're not quite skilled at dealing with death, though, so the conversation will have to center around the verdict—the acquittal of a man who, unprovoked and against the advice of a trained 911 dispatcher, trailed an innocent and unarmed young man and initiated an altercation that culminated in his killing the boy. 

I was more affected than I anticipated by the verdict. I was na├»ve enough to imagine it could have gone any other way.  When I heard about the acquittal, I was first saddened then outraged by the blatant injustice, the gross reminder of how terribly hostile our country is toward minorities, how we marginalize and disenfranchise and—shockingly—even allow men of color to be killed without recompense or reparation (that word should echo).

Many of you, like me, have acquaintances—or even friends—who, in a way that appears entirely divorced from our conception of reality and justice and ethics, don't see this travesty as a miscarriage of justice. I've found it hard to understand their stance as anything but distorted by racist stupidity and ignorance. And I've been tempted to write these people off and out of my life (and my dumb social media feeds). But I think it's better, as usual, to engage in a dialogue and try to spread accurate information and work at educating toward empathy and an ethics of equality.

I took my own advice when people on Facebook expressed views I found ignorant and appalling:



I also had this exchange with a good friend:
Friend: I must be missing something here bc I'm not racist and I think I'm pretty liberal but I'm not getting how the acquittal of Zimmerman is so monumental a statement about our country's culture/race relations. I didn't follow it extremely closely nor was I in the courtroom but it just didnt seem to be the cut-and-dry case everyone wishes it was.  It feels like the media is forcing this conversation about race, pretending this is Rodney King 2.0, when this example isn't as obvious as that.  I mean, it wasn't on videotape...  So enlighten me.  Seriously.  Because I don't understand why this case is THE seminal case for proving the dysfunctional relationship between races in our country. 
MeGood points. I think I agree entirely about this case not necessarily lending itself perfectly to the acute focus on race, and that that component of the case has possibly been overblown by some. But I think that it's impossible to neglect the fact that African American men are targeted—in NYC with stop and frisk, throughout the south in SYG states, and across the country with the dissolution of VRA. I can't imagine this case playing out the same way if Martin were caucasian, or if Zimmerman were black. And nearby in Florida, just days ago, an African American woman was convicted and sentenced for firing warning shots after being threatened by her husband. That is injustice. And it is inextricably tied to race. So I agree with you but I think this should incite another round of dialogue about how our country, even in ways sanctioned and problematized by our government, is dreadfully far from "post-racial."

David Simon wrote a great post in which he said:
"Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies: Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible. I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American."
More examples of inequality and injustice have been emerging within the scrutiny now focused by this case.  Like the Florida woman sentenced to 20 years for firing warning shots to scare off her abusive husband.  (Stand Your Ground apparently doesn't apply to African American victims of domestic abuse.)  Or the jury in Texas that acquitted a man for murdering a female escort who refused sex.  (That verdict is a reach even for a state that prides itself on capital punishment and has no regard for women's reproductive rights.)

The blind eyes and dumb fears leading to these verdicts belong to the same malignant tumor on our American body, the same bile-spewing part that supposedly champions the "sanctity of life" and bemoans a woman's reproductive rights. The same cancer of voices that practice an especially depraved hypocrisy, that can support capital punishment but call abortion murder, that can support Stand Your Ground legislation but oppose any form of gun control.



Let's keep talking about this.  Let's debate.  Let's channel our outrage into something productive.

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