The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman back in 2012 had all the ingredients to spark off another epic race debate in America. An unarmed young black man shot by an older white/hispanic man in highly suspicious circumstances is the stuff the news media lives for, and true to form, everyone piled in and turned the event into a giant feeding frenzy. The case supplied endless controversy, stirred up ancient racial tension, and drove ratings through the roof.
When race comes up as an issue in America, everyone has an opinion, everyone gets angry, and the country regresses back to its uncomfortable, racially divided past.
Given the outcome of the trial on Saturday night, no one other than George Zimmerman benefited from the emotionally charged drama that played itself out in Florida’s court system. And let it be said plainly: The decision delivered by the all white jury was a disgrace.
On 26 February of 2012, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was walking home carrying a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. A voluntary neighborhood watch coordinator, George Zimmerman, drove past him and called the police believing him to look suspicious. Zimmerman exited his car and pursued Martin, armed with a 9mm handgun, despite the dispatcher telling him not to. Martin proceeded to run away from Zimmerman, into the neighborhood his father’s fiance, who he was visiting, lived in. Here is the transcript:
Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?
Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.
Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?
Zimmerman: The back entrance… fucking (unclear)
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.
The phone then cut out and a violent altercation ensued leaving Martin dead and Zimmerman with injuries to his head and face.
We will never know what really happened on that night. What we’re left with are the speculations of the police, forensic specialists, lawyers and the testimony George Zimmerman. In truth, it doesn’t really matter because the information outlined above should have guaranteed Zimmerman jail time for unlawful killing of Martin.
We know that Trayvon Martin had done nothing wrong, was not suspected of anything, and was unarmed. We know that George Zimmerman was armed with a 9mm hand gun and was pursuing Martin based on the ungrounded assumption that he was a criminal. We know that Martin was running away from Zimmerman – the key piece of evidence that should have determined who the aggressor was. Had Zimmerman done as the 911 dispatcher told him and not pursued Martin, the teenager would be alive today.
“Fucking punks,” Zimmerman had told the dispatcher before getting out of his car. “These assholes. They always get away.”
While Trayvon Martin had no criminal record, Zimmerman had previously been charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, and an ex-fiance filed a restraining order against him for domestic violence. In that context, if either of them was a ‘fucking punk’ and an ‘asshole’, it certainly wasn’t Martin. Martin was pursued because Zimmerman thought he looked guilty. Was it a decision based on a racist attitude? We’ll never really know, but given a black man in America is killed by Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially every 28 hours, it isn’t out of the question. Black men in America are three times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites (even though the stops rarely result in charges), a fact Trayvon was made lethally aware of.
Perhaps Zimmerman didn’t pursue Martin because he was black, but had it been a white teenager walking through his neighborhood, we can be sure that at the very least, the police would have taken the killing a lot more seriously. Black men are shot, killed and incarcerated in shocking numbers in America, and had it not been for insistence of Martin’s family that Trayvon had been killed unjustly, the case would have just been another statistic. The sad truth is that black life in America is cheap, and the circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death served as a reminder of how how easily a young African American male can lose his life and evaporate from the public’s eye. It took 6 weeks for the Sanford police department to bring Zimmerman in charge him with murder, and only after an outraged public demanded it.
The facts are as follows: George Zimmerman was not a policeman and had been told explicitly by the police not to pursue Trayvon Martin. Even though Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law states that you are allowed to use deadly force if you believe there to be a ‘reasonable belief of an unlawful threat’, given the only thing we know for sure is that Zimmerman chased Martin and subsequently shot him to death, the notion that Martin was a threat simply does not add up. Martin did not approach Zimmerman, was not doing anything wrong, and had no weapon, ran away from Zimmerman, and yet still the jury deemed Zimmerman’s use of deadly force to be justified. It was a travesty of justice that should not be accepted, regardless of the official outcome.
Then case has again revealed the ugly side of American society – an embedded culture of racism and a two tiered justice system. The media has done its bit turning the tragedy into a ratings bonanza, riling up both sides with inflammatory pundits who make a living peddling hate. But at the end of it all, an innocent black boy was shot to death for wearing a hoodie, and his killer walked free.
While the powerful make their money from the tragedy and the killer walks away with no repercussion, the black community is left once again knowing that in America, the lives of their children are not as important as everyone else’s.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.