Yes, race did play a role in the Trayvon Martin case
It doesn’t matter whether George Zimmerman was racist – the racial implications are being played out in courts, the media and websites all over the nation
Published: July 17, 2013
On Saturday, a Seminole County jury decided that this neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, had acted in self-defense.
Not since O.J. Simpson has a murder case so polarized America. It did so from the start. In polling done a few weeks after Trayvon’s death, 80 percent of blacks said that the shooting was not justified; only 38 percent of whites said the same. This division – more interesting in some respects than the case itself – has become a Rorschach test, underscoring the very different experiences and outlooks of white and black America, and demonstrating how race generally, and white privilege specifically, has constructed the prism through which we still view current events.
In one corner, you have black Americans and liberals, who look at this trial as yet another injustice, yet more proof that the system is stacked against them; yet more evidence that, for all the lip service, the underlying elements of institutional racism remain. Trayvon was gunned down, and his killer let go.
It’s as simple as that.
In the other, you have the aggrieved whites, who believe Zimmerman – who is, as his supporters often point out, half-Hispanic – did nothing wrong, that he is the victim of a bloodlust cooked up by “race hustlers” like Al Sharpton, that those who demanded his arrest are the real racists. In their view, racism – at least, white racism – is an anachronism, and those who see its influence lurking around every corner are just making excuses for their station in life. Even talking about race here is a form of “reverse racism,” they argue. And so these conservatives rejoiced in Zimmerman’s acquittal – “Hallelujah!” tweeted Ann Coulter; “Race card came up snake eyes,” tweeted the Washington Post’s Jen Rubin – and many of them predicted that blacks would riot in its wake.
Whatever your thoughts on George Zimmerman, whether you believe him to be a racist, an overzealous wannabe cop or simply a concerned neighbor; and whatever your feelings on Trayvon Martin, whether you think him a violent, wannabe thug, a scared teenager who made poor decisions that night or a young man whose future was stolen from him on account of his skin color, you ignore this case’s racial dimensions at your own peril. Trayvon’s death, the widespread protests that finally compelled Zimmerman’s arrest and the media circus that surrounded his trial didn’t occur in a vacuum.
As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
After the verdict was announced, Zimmerman’s attorneys held a victory-lap press conference in which Mark O’Mara offered this curious assessment: “Things would have been different if George Zimmerman was black because he never would have been charged with a crime.”
This statement wasn’t just stunningly tone-deaf. It’s empirically wrong.
Consider the case of Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville facing a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot into the ceiling during a confrontation with her allegedly abusive husband in 2010. Alexander claimed a Stand Your Ground defense, and said she fired that shot to force her husband to leave her house. Her claim was rejected, and she was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
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