Blackness on Trial

George Zimmerman Trial Begins In Florida

I have tried to keep myself as detached as possible  from the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case during the media circus of the trial. It affects me deeply, and it’s been tough to synthesize the basic facts of the case on an emotional level in order to really accept the legal proceedings. The basic facts of what happened that night are sad enough to me. That a man could disregard police warnings and go out lethally armed on a night and follow and kill a frightened boy and have a solid chance of walking without any penalty deeply depresses me. What we do know beyond circumstantial evidence is that had Zimmerman not been so overzealous in his misplaced fear and had just done what he was supposed to do, Trayvon Martin would still be alive. However, the burden is on the state to prove that Zimmerman’s version of events that allow for his self-defense argument are false. It’s hard to do that when one of the two witnesses with reliable firsthand knowledge of the entire event is dead. The “moral” facts of the case may not matter, and logically I have to accept this. Doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

The problem is that as the trial has progressed, it has become so much more than just a case of Zimmerman’s account being found believable or lacking. Along the way, the character and intelligence of a key witness has come under racially motivated attack. It seems that Trayvon’s image has been on trial as much as Zimmerman has. Side debates about the offensiveness of racial epithets have sprung up. Games and jokes about “Angry Trayvon” and “dead niggers” came into existence and have blossomed into full-bodied racist fantasies about Zimmerman as a righteous white man rightfully killing a “criminal”. Endless hype-machines like CNN have purposefully fomented a racially tense atmosphere that has turned the trial from a legal and courtroom drama to more of a public race war, where a lot of the nasty things we thought were buried somewhere when we became “post-racial” have suddenly resurfaced. Somewhere along the way, we forgot the basic facts of the case or became insensitive to him.

The fact is that a terrified, innocent boy was killed while getting snacks, just for being considered “suspicious”. No matter how you spin it, no matter who you vilify; no matter if you have concluded that Trayvon was the first to succumb to his fear and fight; what happened was an overwhelming tragedy.

The aforementioned game

The aforementioned game

Let’s get this out of the way, because there is no sugarcoating it. The only folks I’ve encountered who are openly and brazenly rooting for Zimmerman are members of the Conservative, racist side of the country that pushes for laws like stand your ground and promotes the propagation of guns to the hands of “good” people to use against “criminals”. While the laws certainly aren’t racist or xenophobic by code, they are so by nature and practice. What we’ve seen in the trial is a microcosm of that policy debate today. In order to stack the deck against minorities and carefully associate “criminality” with non-Whiteness and “otherness”, the very concept of Blackness has been deconstructed over the past few days. Just search Twitter. Trayvon is being described as a thug, a criminal, and 1000 different combinations of synonyms, plus “nigger” — all because he smoked, was disciplined at school, and took a picture with a gun. Because of his Blackness, he isn’t given the benefit of a doubt that white kids would be. They’d be described as “mischievous” or “boys being boys.”

The defense has relied on this steady othering of Trayvon by way of his Blackness to implant the idea that he somehow deserved death that night, or that his life was worth less than that of George Zimmerman. Meanwhile, Zimmerman has been transformed from an over-eager guy with an obviously irrational and deep fear of Black men, whose stupidity caused a death, to a saintly guy who was right in all of his actions. It’s how the fact that Trayvon called Zimmerman a “cracka” was construed to have obvious racist malevolent intent, but Zimmerman calling him a “fucking punk” and an “asshole” was considered benign. This won’t technically be the issue jurors have to decide on, but it’s certainly in their mind. And it’s certainly in ours, too.

Such marginalization and maligning is what allows things like the absolutely despicable “Angry Trayvon” game to happen. The fact that it was created doesn’t say much. There are always stupid people who do stupid, insensitive things. But in this case, many folks downloaded and defended the game. They considered it ok. A lot of folks are saying wild, outlandish things about Trayvon that they actually believe. These are all symptoms of an illness, one where people reflexively create monsters out of people so they can shed their empathy for them. It’s the same illness that allowed people to make carnivals out of lynchingsWhen you stop seeing people as people, it’s easy to hate them. It’s easy to make George Zimmerman into some type of dragon-slayer who killed righteously. And the artificial gravity that CNN and other news outlets create that almost forces us to settle on one side or the other only makes things worse. The more connected we are to each other and to the case, the more easily that illness will spread like it’s a contagion. Perversely, CNN might be counting on that very fact.

As the trial comes closer and closer to a conclusion, it does make me think about what will happen afterwards. Whether Zimmerman is found guilty or not, can we willfully delude ourselves into believing the post-racial fantasy again? After we have seen that the justice system has always and still does become distorted when it has the task of protecting minorities, will we question whether it is even equipped or intended to do so? Now that we’ve seen a dead boy’s race put on trial as much as the intent of his killer, where do we go? The prognostications say folks might riot. Florida has already put up signs dissuading folks from doing so. But part of me thinks the talks of riots and the plans against them are all part of the illness. Similarly to when much of slave law as we know it (and its progeny, Jim Crow) was created to quell any rebelliousness via brutality, perhaps those infected prefer to think in the “us versus them” mentality of fears of rioting and strategies to stop them instead of making truly constructive measures to confront the real problems. Perhaps only time will tell.

6 Responses to “Blackness on Trial”
  1. to says:

    While the circumstances surrounding the case are quite unfortunate, the amount of misguided, ignorant bias in articles like this foreclose any possibility of true justice. Zimmerman was condemned in the minds of the public before he ever stood trial. There is as much plausibility in the idea of avalid self-defense argument as there is in an argument for murder. Of course,with the blatant slant you put on the story, your audience could never get that. The irony is you perpetuate the same problem you seek to condemn. The sad part is you will never realize that.

    • Justice4Trayvon says:

      I do believe based on your entire response, the last two sentences you wrote apply exactly and definitely more accurately to you.

    • rippleforward says:

      I don’t know this blogger personally, but if I am not mistaken, he is not a journalist and this is an opinion piece. He is not beholden to the journalistic standards you appear to expect from him. As for Zimmerman’s presumed guilt, he has been condemned in the minds of the public because he was pursuing someone and then claimed self-defense. How can it be both pursuit and self defense? The common sense is so lacking, I don’t really see how anyone can perceive anything besides guilt. While it is true all should have waited for the trial before making a final judgement, that is really the jury’s job, not ours. We are free to do whatever we want and this one feels so personal, what do you expect?

    • Mac says:

      have you been watching the same trial we have? please explain how self defence is more plausible when zimmerman was in his car(unharrased by trayvon) got out of his car(still unharrased) and then followed trayvon.? if this was a man following a woman late at night it would be self defense for HER to spray her pursuer with pepper spray because she’s being followed.if he then decides to shoot her because he’s being pepper sprayed its not self defense for the man.HE is the aggressor by following. so trayvon was the one defending himself. zimmerman was safe in his car.the police told him not to follow the guy and he did so anyway. there’s no way its self defense for zimmerman when he’s following someone.what was trayvon supposed to do?stop at night in the rain for some random guy who doesnt identify themself as a police officer?no.its could be someone trying to mug him. and your whole pooint about being condemned is a straw man. of course. everyone knows he killed him. the police tape records zimmerman saying trayvon was running FROM that means zimmerman chased him i dont know what kind of definition of self defense YOU have,but last time i checked it was hard for someone to attack you by running from yeah we think he’s guilty. he hunted trayvon down and shot him. now if you dont realize that means he should go to jail, then the truly sad part is you dont understand the murder

  2. to says:

    Actually following someone does not legally make you an aggressor purposes of self defense. In fact, it is not illegal to follow someone in a public place. And there is no evidence that Trayvon was running. In fact, testimony indicates Tray on confronted Zimmerman because he was being followed. While what Zimmerman did may be questionable and immoral that in no way implies his actions were acrime. Again, I never said Zimmerman isn’t guilty, but many arguments in favor of his guilt, like the ones you are making, are factually and legally incorrect.

    And no one is talking about journalistic integrity. Its very reasonable to call someone out in a blog when they say “what’s undeniable” and follow that statement with opinions that’s are 100% disputed.

    Unless you can support your opinions with actual facts and laws, they are just that — opinions. They mean nothing in court.

    • christine says:

      the tragedy in this case is that the man on trial deemed another suspicious, up to no good, and a fucking punk, he relegated the victim to a class of unworthiness. if I approached anyone on this forum from such a perspective, our “meeting” will more likely than not result adversely.

      black people need to realize the environment in which they live and then live accordingly.

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