I was prepared for George Zimmerman’s acquittal. His lawyers were prepared and needed only to raise doubt. The state had the burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, and faltered. Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lawyer, said in his closing argument there was not a “shred of evidence” race played a role in Trayvon Martin’s death but he is as blind as any American who “does not see color” and pretends not to know the statement itself is an act of racist negation. O’Mara was also tone deaf to Zimmerman’s repeated descriptions to dispatchers of “suspicious” black men.
Zimmerman is our O. J. Simpson, the one who got away with murder. So, now what should we learn from the trial?
First, white privilege is real. White privilege describes benefits that inure to people with the lighter phenotype. Zimmerman found refuge in being the lighter-skinned person in this tragic encounter. Because of color, he was embraced by gun lovers and presumed innocent; dark Trayvon was branded “suspicious.”
Zimmerman stalked and shot Trayvon but was portrayed as a diminutive victim. Trayvon was tall, black and male-a threat in America. Zimmerman was hailed a hero; Trayvon was characterized as a wayward youth. Zimmerman defended himself with a gun and was, per the verdict, justified. Trayvon, who fought for his life with his bare hands, was wrong.
Only George and Trayvon were there. Everyone else – lawyers, witnesses, experts – was speculating. Membership has its privileges. Neither the Martins nor Rachel Jeantel are members.
Second, racism is still a problem. Every few years we have national schisms.
The country divides along racial lines and both sides look for victory. Whites want assurance they are still at the top. Blacks want assurance they are not still at the bottom. That’s why people waited for the verdict. Mark O’Mara, who was immersed in the facts, could not see color. Black folk live in color.
In a year when blacks watched a conservative U.S. Supreme Court weaken the Civil Rights Act, saw affirmative action questioned in universities, saw the Miami Police Department cited by the U. S. Department of Justice for the questionable killings of black males and witnessed Congress obstruct President Barack Obama’s policies with impunity, it is no surprise that a jury concluded Trayvon’s death was legal. The “stand your ground” law inspires weak men to be brave. There will be more Zimmermans.
Third, black life is cheap in America’s gun culture. Why didn’t Trayvon’s death merit the same compassion as the children of Sandy Hook? Is a life less valuable when the victim’s skin is dark? People who could not empathize with the Martins have rarely, if ever, dealt with gun death up close. They have never lived through gunshots outside their windows or making their children sleep on the floor to avoid being shot.
Zimmerman has his victory but will live with the reality of having killed a boy whose crimes were walking home and fighting for his life. Ralph Wiley wrote a book called Why Black People Tend to Shout. We shout because some Americans don’t see color. We shout because black males continue to die unnecessarily. We shout to be heard. We shout to live. We shout to be valued.
Finally, we must honor Trayvon’s death with academic success, less incarceration of black males, stronger families and love for our children. We must know America is not a post-racial nation. We must work harder. We must vote better people into office. We must go forward and not let hate win. We must have faith in God and believe in spite of this. These things will heal us.
Dr. Jeffrey Dean Swain is vice-president of the International Black Doctorates Association Inc., an administrator/instructor of law at Florida Memorial University, author and minister. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College and he holds juris doctor and Ph.D. degrees.