Friday, November 28, 2014

Trayvon, George and Race in 21st Century America

I've done a lot of thinking the past week about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and the protests and President Obama's July 19 response and these are my thoughts.  This is only one opinion out of the millions out there and I'm not saying I'm right or that anyone else is wrong. This is just my response. So here it is...

I think the peaceful protests are warranted and it warms my heart to see people of all races carrying signs saying "I am Trayvon Martin". When I see blacks, whites and Hispanics marching together in honor of Trayvon I begin to think that we are on the verge of seeing humans rather than color. Then, some protests become violent and people get arrested and race makes its way back into national dialogue.

There's a lot that went wrong in the shooting. Zimmerman should have done what the 911 dispatcher told him to do and remain in his vehicle until police arrived. I don't know if I can honestly say that Trayvon should not have confronted George. This kid was being followed by some strange man and he didn't know why. With all the stories about kidnappings, I think I would have confronted a person following me too.

I think Zimmerman should have used his fists against Martin rather than a gun. He outweighed the teen and could have thrown his weight into the fight. Was Trayvon going for George's gun? That would have been different but I don't remember that being part if the equation. Bottom line: Zimmerman should have stayed in the car as he was told to do.

Now for the next issue: was this a racially motivated crime? According to some reports I've read, Zimmerman had a history of following black youth around during his neighborhood watch patrols. Unfortunately, the reports don't say if he followed other ethnic groups as well, so I can't say he is racist just based on those reports.

I do think the attorneys on both sides played the race card. I think Zimmerman's attorney was greatly misinformed when he said that had Zimmerman been black and Martin white, there wouldn't have been an arrest. I don't know what United States he lives in but the one I live in definitely would have seen a black Zimmerman arrested and charged in the murder of a white Martin (and quite possibly convicted). Prosecutors mentioned Trayvon's skin color a lot during the trial, as if the pictures weren't clear enough. So, is Zimmerman a racist? I don't know.

Is racism alive and well in this country? Yes. Is racism visible in our politics and criminal justice system?  Yes. Can we move beyond race? God, I hope and pray so.

The remarks of the President about the verdict and being black in America was open and honest about what it's like to be black. I have been watched and followed while shopping. I have been denied service or ignored by store employees.  I have been treated like a second class citizen and I have been called the "N" word and a coon. It's not a good feeling. There are places I won't go because of the color of my skin. The collective history of blacks in this country does bring about a certain level of dismay, disbelief and hurt in response to the verdict.

So, was the jury wrong? Well, our system is based on reasonable doubt. There must have been enough reasonable doubt in the evidence presented to result in a not guilty. I didn't watch the trial regularly so I didn't hear all of the testimony. I caught bits and pieces. All I can say about the jury is that they should probably never admit they were on this case given how people have reacted. I know I wouldn't tell anyone I was a juror on this case if I had been one, for fear of retaliation.  Especially now that the Black Panthers have said they're going to get justice (that does not sit well with me at all). The Black Panthers scare me so I can't imagine how Zimmerman feels knowing they're looking for him.

What about race?  Race is always going to be part of the dialogue when people talk about Trayvon Martin. Race is always going to be there. I think whenever a minority youth is killed in a situation similar to Trayvon, race will be discussed. I don't think anyone can discuss the criminal justice system without mentioning race given the large numbers of brown and black men currently in prison.
Maybe one day race won't be an issue. As the races continue to mix and new generations of children are born biracial then maybe the color of a person's skin won't matter and people will truly be judged by their character. Maybe the day will come when we don't have to check a box indicating what our ethnic background is. Maybe one day all of our commercials and TV shows will be like the Cheerios commercial with the biracial little girl, white mommy and black daddy. Maybe one day all of society will be colorless and the only racial identification will be Human.

I hope we have a future like that. I hope my son will not be judged by race, or rather the races of his parents. My son has a black mother and white father. He's a lot lighter than me and only a little darker than his father. More and more biracial children are born everyday and I think that is a good thing.
So what about the current situation?  My opinion is that justice was not served. Trayvon should still be alive. George should have stayed in his car. President Obama gave a great speech on Friday about race. The Black Panthers are dangerous. Peaceful nonviolent protests are warranted. Violence is not the answer. No matter if we agree or disagree we must respect the jury's verdict. Racism is alive and kicking. Hope keeps me going. I am an educated, affluent, black woman with a biracial son. We are Trayvon Martin.

(Written July 2013)
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