After George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin death in Florida, the New York Daily News did a piece When will it end? Deadly racial targeting of black men and teens is hardly ancient history.

So I find it difficult to look at the case as a singular event but in the context of a social pattern. Black-on-black murder doesn’t make headlines, unless it hits an epic proportion, as it has in Chicago recently. Black-on-white murders statistically draw tougher sentences. So there is always uneasiness when a white-on-black killing takes place. In the “good old days”, there were often no consequences, and in these days, laws such as Stand Your Ground can justify the same result.

Jelani Cobb has covered the Zimmerman trial for the New Yorker. Her stories are all worth reading. George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves has some quotable pieces.
*”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.”
*”Yet the problem is not that this case marks a low point in this country’s racial history—it’s that, after two centuries of common history, we’re still obligated to chart high points and low ones. To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship… That [Trayvon’s shooting] occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it.”
*”Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.”

Of course, the case may have hinged on the judge’s jury instruction, which was appallingly incomplete.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the review of the newly-released movie Fruitvale Station,- the true story of Oscar Julius Grant III, a young black man unjustly killed in California in 2009, notes how that story echoes the Martin case. “The film’s portrayal of a young black man as a complex human being– [not that] you’re either a thug or a saint, good or bad, black or white (sometimes literally), with no shades of grey between…. [T]he eagerness with which the pro-Zimmerman faction of the populace and media leapt breathlessly upon any scrap of negative information about his 17-year-old victim–he smoked pot! He talked like a thug on Twitter! He flipped off the camera in pictures! He may have stolen jewelry!… But even if every vile posthumous rumor that attached itself to Martin was true, even if he was a pot-dealing, thugged-out thief, what then? Is tweeting like Tupac a death-penalty offense?” Supporters of Trayvon have suggested he was a good son, someone who did well in school, who went to church, who did community service; assuming that’s true, that’s fine, but it’s just the “saint” side of the portrayal, and, for me, doesn’t materially affect the tragedy of the situation.

Another Florida case in which Stand Your Ground may be invoked is the first degree murder case in which Michael Dunn, who is white, is charged with shooting into a car, killing 17-year old Jordan Davis, who was black, after an argument over loud music. (Sidebar: someone on Facebook complained about a person mentioning this case on FB, because the original story came out back in November 2012, as though it were old news, or resolved. Just this month, 2nd judge leaves Michael Dunn/Jordan Davis case.)

Meanwhile, I came across this bizarre story from May 2013: Fla. mom gets 20 years for firing warning shots. “Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home in August 2010. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order.” One is left wondering if she had instead killed her husband, she would be walking the streets, or whether her race (she’s black) or gender would have played into the case.
***
Related: this week is the 150th anniversary of New York City Draft Riots. “With the ludicrous Newt Gingrich (who claims to be a historian) insisting the peaceful Trayvon Martin protesters were ‘prepared to be a lynch mob,’ it’s worth remembering that devastating eruption of white mob violence 150 years earlier, when at least 11 black men were actually lynched.”

Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers Assaulted on Stage Dedicating Set to Trayvon Martin, with link to “Time has Come Today.”

Kids Who Die by Langston Hughes.

2 Responses to “Florida: race, murder, self-defense”

  • The jury instructions helped provide context.

    The “complex human being” issue is one I think about a lot. “How would people react to my nervousness and prayer on airplanes if I were Middle Eastern and male? How would people interpret my gun ownership mixed with my political philosophies if I were male and black or male and white?”

    It’s strange: in some ways I’m more free as a white female, but in other ways I’m still in bondage (e.g. ever had a conversation where “it’s okay that they treat women like that because that’s another culture”? Or getting called a cold fish because I get uncomfortable around sex jokes at work?) I don’t know if you have the more free and less free thing, too.

  • Echoing Chris, I’m still “just a woman,” albeit Anglo and therefore privileged on the surface, which is where so many people dwell.

    The jury instructions included Stand Your Ground, yet the prosecution was not allowed to speak about Z’s taking classes on the finer points of said law.

    The Stand Your Ground law is an invitation to vigilantism, or simply blowing someone away because they pissed you off, they don’t drive well, they inadvertently were an incompatible color for your neck of the woods… Everythng you said was right on point, Roger. Racism? Colorblind society? Wasn’t it last year that people were lynching empty chairs in their front yards after Clint Eastwood spoke?

    I have crackers in my own family and I can tell you, they would not come to my house because I have a no-weapons policy. Anyone who is so pathetic that they need a gun to protect them when they have a mind full of words and a heart full of humanity seems to have forgotten the second two and embraced the first out of fear. Amy

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