Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman verdict:
What led to it and what’s next


TONIGHT IN the Sunshine State, the sun set on justice in America.

George Zimmerman’s role as judge, jury and executioner in the matter of the death of Trayvon Benjamin Martin was fully ratified at 10 p.m. eastern time, when a six-woman jury acquitted him of all charges in the shooting death of Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Andy Riveria, commenting in The Huffington Post, was one who put it best: “open season on people of color in the state of florida.”

Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of TheGrio and an MSNBC analyst, expanded on that, powerfully and accurately, minutes after the verdict: “There has been a sense of demoralization, and really depression, about this case from the very beginning. The notion that a young black man’s life really isn’t worth very much in America was tied up in this case — and the notion that this boy just walking home was out of place just by being there, just by being dressed the way he was, just his existence was almost illegal ...

“For a lot of African Americans, this is a moment when the country sends them a message. And the message is sent is, ‘you know what? It’s OK to shoot and kill one of your sons because it just really doesn’t matter that much.”

And Marc Lamont Hill got the drift of the situation, in a post-verdict tweet: “We live in a country where it is not only illegal but lethal to be young and Black and outside. Trayvon is our nation’s metaphor.”

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For all the rain of blame that will come down on certain people central to the trial — on the prosecution, for presenting a case that meandered from the procedural to the passionate without a narrative throughline; on the defense attorneys whose obvious racism was almost brandished with pride; on the jurors, for ignoring the option of a manslaughter conviction and going straight to absolving Zimmerman of responsibility for that which he already admitted — there are other actors whose earlier actions led to this latest sad chapter in American life.

“We wouldn’t be here were it not for the laws ... the laws that are really predicated on this sense of fear of criminals and, especially, of black and brown people,” said Jelani Cobb of the University of Connecticut, Wednesday on MSNBC. “In much the same way that Newtown was a product of liberalizing gun laws, we don’t get to this situation with Trayvon Martin without Stand Your Ground. It’s a natural byproduct of having laws that really make proactive self-defense.”

And for the laws in Florida, we can thank John Ellis (Jeb) Bush, the former governor, and Marion P. Hammer, a top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which worked legislators hard to get Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through the State Senate and onto the governor’s desk. That’s where Bush signed Florida Statute 776-012 into law on Oct. 1, 2005. With Hammer standing literally at his right hand.

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ZIMMERMAN MAY be through with this court, but his days in other courts have yet to begin. A wrongful-death civil suit against him is probably in the works. And the NAACP is already weighing in. “We are outraged and heartbroken over today’s verdict,” said Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, in a statement. “We stand with Trayvon’s family and we are called to act. We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”

The civil rights organization posted a petition at its Web site. According to Business Insider, it had almost 100,000 signatures in the three hours after the verdict was read. The site reportedly crashed briefly because of the flood of signatures.

The signatures of everyday people whose ethnicities span our seemingly unbridgeable racial divide. People repelled by the verdict itself and by the thought that young male African Americans are presumptively criminal. People resisting the deeply corrosive suggestion that a black male teenager is a prima facie existential threat.

Tonight in the Sunshine State, the sun set on justice in America. But count on it: it’s coming back. Trayvon would have wanted nothing less. We have to work for nothing less.

Image credits: Zimmerman: Pool: Stephen M. Dowell/Getty Images. Trayvon Martin: The Martin Family. 

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