The not guilty verdict in George Zimmernan’s trial left many observers feeling sad, angry, but also motivated. Anger is appropriate at a moment like this, but not if it remains idle. We must channel frustration over a system that devalues and criminalizes black men into meaningful social and political change. What leads our society to a place where six white women allow this killer to walk free–whether he is a murderer or a manslaughter-er, the fact that Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin is not in dispute.
I went to college in Boston and I live in Brooklyn, so my social circle is pretty liberal on the whole. Most of the reactions I’ve heard, from folks of all races, include disappointment and anger. Too often at times like these, we forget the sage advice of Rahm Emanuel: don’t let a serious crisis go to waste.
The acquittal of the assailant in this case is an obvious travesty of justice, but it reflects something much deeper about the state of race relations and inequality in the United States. After Occupy Wall Street was lambasted for not “having an agenda,” I decided that, although I value collaborative dialogue and the democratic process, there’s also value in crying out. What are the specific changes that could contribute to dismantling the corrupt, unequal system that led to Zimmerman walking free?
- End the drug war.
- Legalize marijuana possession. Blacks are 4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, even though usage rates are equivalent.
- Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug violations.
- Implement real gun control laws to limit the availability of deadly weapons.
- Stop racial profiling in the police force. The NYPD is guilty of one of the largest profiling programs in the world, and it continues with impunity.
- Replace suspension and other punitive, exclusionary forms of school discipline with restorative justice and therapeutic approaches.
- Each one, teach one. If you have earned a stable position in life, give your time to mentoring a young person who doesn’t have the support system he or she needs.
Finally, let’s stop this talk of times being bad for black men “like never before,” as Al Sharpton said in a recent Daily Beast/Newseek article. It is essential to talk about the legacy of the criminalization and marginalization of black men, because it is deeply relevant to today. From slavery to Jim Crow, there has always been impunity in the law for killing black men. It was official U.S. policy for hundreds of years that blacks were property, not humans, and so their lives had less value than a thoroughbred horse. 100 years after the end of slavery, black men like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers were savagely murdered with impunity. Times are better than they once were, but the abuse of black men is inextricably linked to that legacy. The powers that be have gotten better at the insidious practice of subjugation, hiding racism from public view most of the time.
A crisis like the acquittal of George Zimmerman mustn’t go to waste. Use the opportunity to make a difference because the time is always ripe to do what is right. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Education is most valuable when it takes a stand and has a definite perspective. Education is activism, and it is due time more of our young people became active.