Point of View Columns

Twelve Lessons from the Zimmerman Trial

It took approximately sixteen hours for the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman to arrive at the verdict that acquitted him of all charges related to his having killed Trayvon Martin. This stunning demolition of the concept of “justice for all” has a sad and macabre “Groundhog Day” quality to it as American history reeks with the stench of the tradition of black men and women being killed without criminal consequences for the killers.

Conscientious black parents in this country give their children American Survival lessons at a very early age lest they run afoul of the third rail of racism that lies hidden just below the surface all throughout these United States. The Zimmerman verdict provided yet another mandatory teachable moment. Ever since the jury of five white women and a Latina determined that the killing of Trayvon Martin did not warrant any punishment whatsoever, it has been important to think about twelve lessons that black parents need to be teaching their children until they can recite it by rote:

  1. For over two hundred years it was impossible for a white person to be arrested, much less convicted for killing a black person in the American South.
  2. Until the Civil War, very few white Americans did anything to prevent this ritualized and legalized slaughter of black human beings.
  3. For over one hundred years after the Civil War black men and women were routinely lynched by white terrorists. These lynchings took place not only in the South but in places like Indiana and New York’s Long Island. Records do not indicate that any white person ever faced legal consequences as a result of participating in this terrorist activity.
  4. During the wholesale lynching frenzy, most white Americans went about their business and there is no record of any Congressional action outlawing lynching despite a few pathetic efforts to do so.
  5. During the classic years of the Civil Rights movement so many black Americans were killed without the killers ever being arrested, much less prosecuted, the United States Congress passed a law in the early part of this century empowering the Justice Department to reopen so called “cold cases”. Not surprisingly, most of the perpetrators have either died or continue to walk the streets.
  6. Despite the history of institutionalized, routinized and culturally acceptable violence being perpetrated against black people in America, the myth of the barely controllable black brute has become a part of white American reality justifying the routine use of deadly force, capital punishment and the imposition of crippling prison sentences through mass incarceration.
  7. In any encounter with the police or any other law enforcement representative, a black male can anticipate being held to a different standard regarding his conduct as his mere existence can be seen as a potential threat and he is considered to have the inherent capacity to become a wild and dangerous brute at any moment.
  8. In order to survive encounters with law enforcement representatives, a black male must be fully conscious of the perspective of those representatives, recognizing that raising his voice, gesticulating or looking angry could be seen as sufficient reason for the use of deadly force.
  9. Because of the prevailing myth of the black brute, black males must be self-aware in their interaction with white people who are not a part of law enforcement given that there are over 300 million firearms in the United States and the overwhelming number of them are owned by white Americans.
  10. The combination of the myth of the black brute has combined with “stand your ground” statutes to produce a toxic environment for black males where any argument, confrontation, fight or contentious encounter with a white person can have lethal consequences that will be deemed legally justifiable.
  11. The principles of self-defense in the American justice do not apply to black people when the presumed attacker is white. It is clear to all rational observers that if the “black George Zimmerman” had shot and killed the “white Trayvon Martin” and claimed self-defense he would have been arrested on the spot, convicted of killing the “white Trayvon Martin” and he would have begun serving his second year in prison by now.
  12. As a black male, you are not assured of a right to safety or to be free from random acts of lethal violence even if you are smart, college educated, well-spoken, well dressed, polite,  aware and law abiding. To stay alive you will also have to be lucky.