My reaction to the jury’s not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman came in a couple of distinct phases. Initially, I took it in stride and mentally added it to the centuries of injustice that have befallen black Americans, next to Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. Over the day or so that followed, I read a number of reactions and discussed the verdict with friends. By Sunday evening, I was in mourning. The depth of the statement made in Florida resonated, and I recognized how deeply victimizing it must feel for African Americans and others of dark complexion. As a middle class white man, I felt devastated, and I felt guilty.
But wait! There is bright side. One of the many wonders of the Internet is the way media narratives have become decentralized. Lately, the corner of the blogosphere that I read has been atwitter with the personal accounts of black men who felt the verdict most intimately. Their general premise seems to be “We get it, we ain’t shit. Thanks for the reminder.” Black men and their loved ones weren’t surprised Trayvon’s killer got off, because they knew Trayvon was always going to be guilty of being young, black and male. Here are a few of my favorites:
- From ?uestlove, the inspiration for this theme: Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit, which includes a revealing anecdote from the drummer’s day-to-day looking “primitive, exotic-looking — six-foot-two, 300 pounds, uncivilized Afro, for starters”.
- Eugene Robinson, writing for the Washington Post: Black boys denied the right to be young. “If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.”
- Liz Dwyer (who you may know from the education beat at GOOD): Thank You, Post-Racial America for Making it Clear That it’s Open Season on my Black Sons. “Like every other black person I know, I have no choice but to accept the reality of living in an America that has a dehumanized vision of blackness as part of its foundation.”
- One of my favorite writers on social issues, Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic: Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice. “It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended.”
- Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker: George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves. Like the author, I also walked out of Fruitvale Station moments before the verdict was released. The film closes with white text on a black screen, announcing that the officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant–unarmed, young and black–in 2008 served 11 months. “The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”
When justice passes by, so patently not served, standing up begins with giving testimony. Millions of black men have been profiled, victimized and criminalized by society. These authors deserve a wider audience for their valuable, insightful contributions to the debate over the verdict’s meaning and where we go from here.