A Sad Night in America
Normally I would begin one of these posts with what motivates me to write it. There is no need. The trial of George Zimmer for killing Trayvon Martin has pervaded the media for weeks. We watched as the State presented witness after witness. We heard the Zimmerman interview with Sean Hannity. Many, like myself, stood in awe of how one could concoct a story so utterly ludicrous, so beyond the realm of rational circumstance, that it boggled the imagination.
But his story is archetypal of the great disease of which these United States is still afflicted: the disease of limited perspective.
What I mean by limited perspective is this. I am a Black man. And tonight, being a Black means something totally different to the majority population than what it means and has always meant to me. I look in the mirror and see my African heritage writ large in the curves of my lips and the breadth of my nose. I see it in the color of my skin and feel it in the rhythm of music. But what I see, is not what others see. What others see is what George Zimmerman saw, and it is the only reason Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead and his killer walks free.
What George Zimmerman saw from the moment he first laid eyes on this child was a threat. A threat to George’s neighborhood. A threat to George’s very way of life. All too often in the “melting pot” we call American, non-Blacks endeavor to wall themselves away. They build increasingly homogenous neighborhoods that they might live with other like-minded, like-colored, like-monied individuals. The very notion of something unlike themselves penetrating their bastions of “safety” and “privilege” frightens them to the core of their being.
What Zimmerman saw was a punk. What Zimmerman saw was an asshole. What Zimmerman saw was the sum total of all his frustrations as a man. Frustrations as a professional unable to pursue his dream of law enforcement. What he saw, and what much of White America saw throughout this trial is the narrative that was drawn by the defense. A narrative that vilifies. A narrative that dehumanizes. This narrative was so effective that it allowed six women who likely have young sons of their own to not look at a dead adolescent and see in them the very hopes and dreams they have for their own offspring, but rather see something other.
From the beginning the story strained the imagination so much as to be utterly ridiculous. Zimmerman notices this child. Labels him suspicious. Not based on illegal acts, but rather based on his skin color, and the time of day in which he was walking. He couldn’t have belonged in Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Of course not. This Black boy was one of the many that had “scourged” the area, committing a series of home invasions. So Zimmerman followed, so confident in his estimation that from that point, no other scenario was possible.
The fairy tale proceeds that despite reporting the individual to the police, Zimmerman blatantly ignores all admonitions to remain in his vehicle. This is the point in the story where the pumpkin becomes the carriage. This is where we are meant to believe that this young child, having purchased a bag of candy, suddenly becomes the peak human specimen. The aggressive, dangerous, and devious animal that evades Zimmerman, and suddenly gets the drop on him. Yells “You’re gonna die tonight” and totally unprovoked punches Zimmerman and they begin fighting. Despite Zimmerman being on the order of 50 pounds heavier and being armed, is suddenly helpless. Unable to even meagerly defend himself.
I am not mad at the prosecution. They did what they could with the evidence available. I don’t think the defense is evil. They are professionals doing their professional, ethical, and legal duty: defending their client zealously. I am sad at America as personified in the minds of those jurors.
Those mothers couldn’t see Trayvon as their son. Because their sons don’t send silly photos through their phones. Their sons haven’t tried marijuana. THEY haven’t tried marijuana. Their sons haven’t walked home in the evening after coming from a store. The sheer ability for those women not to empathize and see the basic commonality in Trayvon and their own offspring gives me a cold chill.
But then again, America has never had a problem looking at dark faces as disposable. That’s not new. What is shocking in its novelty here is the sheer ability to defy common sense. The ability to stare logic squarely in the eye and think of what most likely happened:
a) A teen develops super-human strength and speed after fulfilling a candy urge and develops an insatiable bloodlust
b) A scared little man seeking validation in his small little world in the only way he knows how; by asserting himself and confronting an innocent teen on a dark night.
Tonight, America is the country that will try desperately to pull the veil over its own eyes and see Blackness as a threat. It doesn’t matter the age. It doesn’t matter the circumstance. The level of self-delusion is all-too-easy for a nation that strives so hard to appeal to the better angels of its nature, but so often falls upon its baser tendencies. Black women, draw close your sons. Tell them it can’t happen to them while knowing it can.
A sad night indeed when any Black life ends. A sad night indeed when he that ends it goes free. A sad night in America.