The Superbus's Thoughtpad

Jumbled Thoughts On Trayvon Martin’s Unfinished Legacy

Posted by Chris Bowen on July 20, 2013

The verdict came down late last Saturday night: George Zimmerman is not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. In the sense of the law, it was the right decision. If I sound depressed in saying that, it’s because the whole case is depressing. It really doesn’t matter which side of the partisan divide you sit on, or what your opinion on Zimmerman or Martin are. If you’re sympathetic to Zimmerman, you see a kid that would be alive if he didn’t fight the guy and force him to stand his ground, and why was he dressed like “that”? If you’re sympathetic to Martin, you see a rejected mall cop who decided to chase down and attack a teenage boy largely because he “looked” like a thug – being black and hooded and all – and ended up shooting him when he started losing a fair fight.

I haven’t been following the case as voraciously as some, but I’m obviously more sympathetic to the unarmed teenager with the Skittles than I am to the idiot with delusions of grandeur. But it’s not depressing for any of those reasons. It’s depressing because a kid was needlessly gunned down, weather the defendant was pronounced innocent or not1. It’s depressing because of how people are reacting. It’s depressing because of how we expect certain others to react. And it’s depressing that all of the introspection – what little is going on – is going to get drowned out by the next big scandal, nothing will change, and by most accounts, Trayvon Martin will have died completely in vain.

The most depressing thing about this whole issue is that it made the participants largely irrelevant while shoving so many issues with America, and Americans, to the forefront, begging to be looked at, and yet no one seems to be looking at the real issues.

The Case Itself

By most accounts – and I say “most” because I’m seeing a lot of people completely turning around the facts, based on partisan bent, doing whatever they can to make *their* side win – George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin was suspicious enough to warrant following, as part of his position as a neighbourhood watch leader, a completely unofficial position that basically made him the neighbourhood’s safety patrol2. A scuffle broke out, the results of which are inconclusive but seem to point at Martin screaming before being shot, and Martin lay dead after the fact.

As noted in the below footnotes, there’s simply not enough to go on – especially thanks to the poor job the prosecution did in presenting its case – to find for guilt in a court of law. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the people who were on the jury. The case of Juror B37 is absolutely galling. She referred to Trayvon Martin as “a boy of colour”, which would be an appropriate statement if you were trying to be polite in 1966. She intentionally doesn’t watch anything other than the Today Show – no internet news, nothing – because she feels everyone is out to get her with a bias. She talked about riots in Sanford, FL after Martin’s death, which would be appropriate if there were any riots, which there weren’t. And of course, she has a book deal coming, because of course she does. (EDIT: The book deal is off, largely due to the campaign of one Twitter user. I am not very comfortable with fighting vigilanteism with vigilanteism, even if the latter is nonviolent.)

Here’s my question: if this Froot Loop can get on a murder jury, who the hell did they end up rejecting!?

This woman is, by all accounts, a willfully ignorant moron. However, maybe that’s the intention. Is it really possible to get a fair jury in the internet age, where everyone seemingly had a definite opinion of the Zimmerman case the moment it became news, and the rest developed one as the press pushed the case more. The whole point of getting a jury is getting someone without a predisposition towards the case, and that was virtually impossible this time around. After all, how can you be less predispositioned on this case than some idiot who talks about her birds all day?

Of course, now, activists are calling for a civil trial to punish Zimmerman for racially charged pain upon the Martin family. As pointed out by others, this would be a massive mistake. Of course, I’m strictly talking the legal aspects of the case, which themselves aren’t remarkable, unless you consider potentially politically motivated reaching for a Murder charge remarkable.

Let’s address the elephant in the room.

The Racial Fallout

Simply put, both “sides” – liberals and conservatives – have been race-baiting shamelessly, but the conservatives have been taking it to a whole other level. There’s been open cheering of the verdict, open attempts to smear Martin – I remind everyone, a dead 17 year old – as a ghetto, gangster thug. There’s been so many people wrong about the facts of the case – I’ve seen claims that Martin was the one who initiated the whole incident – that it has to be considered willful. That doesn’t excuse the liberals, some of whom are pointing out that a 17 year old white kid was shot somewhere, which only puts the problem off and doesn’t solve anything.

The problem is that there’s a very real perception problem about black people, by white (and yes, I guess Hispanic) people, which shouldn’t exist in this so-called “post-racial” society of 2013. New York City was – still might be – blatantly authorizing “stop and frisk” policies on anyone “suspicious” looking; it doesn’t take much thought to guess what “suspicious” means, which is the same thing it meant for George Zimmerman. The difference is that now, we have a branch of our network news that is dedicated to this kind of smear attack, largely because minorities are a Democratic thing, and Democrats are icky, or something. As pointed out by Eric Boehlert, once President Obama said one word about this issue, Republicans swept in for the kill. We’ve turned overt racism into a partisan issue.

The racism issue is very real, and when coupled with Stand Your Ground, makes it virtually open season on anyone who doesn’t dress like Steve Urkel. It reminds me of an early South Park episode, where Uncle Jimbo gets around hunting laws by just screaming “It’s coming right for us!” before blowing the (docile) animals away. “Oh God, it’s a black kid! Wearing a hoodie! Oh shit HE’S COMING RIGHT FOR US!!!” Or he could just be asking for directions.

I’d like to say that the courts are smart enough to see the difference and call each case as the law requires, but, well

However, none of this is news. Black people have been persecuted, even in “liberal” bastions like Connecticut, for years. When I was going through vocational school, we – the entire school – were taken to a banquet hall as a reminder of the political process and a kick in the pants to vote, and to drive the point home, they actually brought in some people to speak to us. Because the reason I was paying $22,000 for a year of school was to deal with some middle-school Western Civ lecture, but I digress. I forget his name, but someone was running to be the Mayor of Waterbury, and I asked him about funding for state-run vocational technical schools like the one I went to3. He hemmed and hawed, stating that there are a lot of reasons for such poor scores on Mastery tests, including the 22% minority population (at the time) in Waterbury. To this person, the “minority” population was a problem that had to be accounted for, and not the fact that minorities have been shoved into a cycle of poverty by a system that has deemed them outright subhuman for hundreds of years. To people like this, the race – and not the mitigating factors – is the problem, and while I’m reasonably confident that my reaction to his little diatribe ended his political career that afternoon, ultimately, nothing changed except the awesome feeling of really pissing off my school’s chancellor.

So, what do we do about the very real racial issues that still permeate all aspects of American life in 2013? We’re not off to a good start, I can tell you that.

Progressing On A Hamster Wheel

On Tuesday night, I attended a rally for Trayvon Martin in Bridgeport at the request of a Facebook friend. I expected there wouldn’t be a lot of white people there, and I was not disappointed; there were more white police officers there than white participants, I was one of only three. As for the rally itself, I have to admit I almost walked out. The entire first half of the rally could be summed up the Fuck The Crackers Hour, Starring Ernie Newton. Ernie Newton!!! What, was Marion Barry unavailable? Even those that had a good message, with one or two exceptions, used the time to talk less about Trayvon and more about seemingly unrelated issues that are their pet projects. In short, I felt they were using Trayvon Martin.

But that doesn’t obscure the good things that came out of the rally. Among the crowd, I was accepted, even to the point where someone gave me the newspaper that Louis Farrakhan writes for; I appreciated the gesture, but I don’t think that’s going to reach its intended audience. I held hands and sang Martin Luther King’s We Shall Overcome prayer. I talked to some good people who didn’t pressure me into doing anything but thinking. I felt uncomfortable, which is actually a good thing; white privilege in America cannot be denied, so it was good to be placed in a position where I was a bit on the defensive. And my friend was extremely thankful for my presence, which made the whole endeavor worth it and then some.

But ultimately, we’re just a couple of hundred people in Bridgeport. I’m just one white guy. Ultimately, everything we’re seeing – the unstated racism in how the police react to certain minorities4, the subtle racism being shown in comments by most people, the outright overt racism in some such as Rush Limbaugh and Ted Nugent who, against all notions of sense are given a soapbox to express views that people actually listen to, and the effects of all of the above – is garnish, and the main course is simple human nature. The notion of racism, classism, and any other act where a group of humans disenfranchises another group of humans all come from said dominant group seeking to retain their dominance over the others. Virtually all bad behavior by humans against humans, from telling someone who has an unpopular opinion on a social media site, to someone stealing property, to mass genocides like Hitler Killing the Jews, Mugabe attacking scores of white people in Zimbabwe, and Castro and Guevara executed so many Bautista supporters: it’s a person who perceives a threat dealing with that threat in an extreme way. All of the Starbucks coffee, and all of the Segways in the world will never obscure that we are tribal survivors by nature, and that we perceive someone above us to be a threat to our position in life, to our niche of sorts. So we either defend against that threat, or go on the offensive and attack it. Blacks in this country have been a weaker class from the perspective of political, financial and even human rights metrics since Africans started coming over as slaves – themselves, often the losers in inter-tribal wars in Africa – so they’re an easy target. It would be offensive if it wasn’t biological.

That’s why I believe Barack Obama, who on Friday stated that the bigger problem in America is black-on-black violence – a salient point from someone who rose to prominence from Chicago – is also wrong. All violence should be condemned. All racism, classism and whateverelse-ism should be condemned. Black-on-black violence – cases of which were pointed out on social media sites by conservatives to discredit the racial motives of the Zimmerman shooting – is largely caused by financial duress, either causing one person to harm another to gain more money, or by groups of them to shoot up the other groups so that they can control the local black economy. In these cases, race is completely irrelevant; only money, power and social standing – all things that directly determine the quality of human life in America – matter. Just like the colors those gang members wear, in other aspects of life, race is just another division; a tool to be used by leaders to rally underlings.

For people who want to attack this type of violence, the important thing is to push for equality. Social equality, political equality, equality under the law, and financial equality. However, that’s not something a group or person in power is going to willingly allow to happen; after all, that would require them to give back some of their power, and the innate human fear in doing that is that someone is going to take that foothold and gain their own advantage. Once again, human tribalism wins out. Frankly speaking, if I knew how to defeat that, I would be writing this as a part of a doctoral thesis, not in a blog entry.

The Needed Aftermath

What’s really important is to keep the memory of Trayvon Martin, and everything his death caused, alive. While Martin and his family didn’t end up getting justice via the legal system, we, as people, can do everything in our power to keep pushing for the things that came about from his death after the media has moved on. It’s one thing to rally three days after the verdict came down; it’s another thing for the people of Florida to vote out the people who gave us the idiotic legal interpretations that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away a free man in the first place, in an election that takes place in November. True change will only come if we make Trayvon Martin into Emmett Till, whose brutal murder was one of the catalysts towards gaining the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and not into Rodney King, who became a punchline shortly after the L.A. Riots and buckled under the scrutiny of becoming a trivia question. If the people who rallied with me are serious about change, they won’t leave that rally and go watch The Price is Right. They will continue to rally, continue to lobby, to legislate, educate themselves, educate others, and create real, honest change.

Trayvon Martin is not a martyr yet. We need to turn him into one.

1 – Here’s something liberals need to understand: it’s on the prosecutor to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that George Zimmerman is guilty of Murder 2, as Murder 2 is defined by the State of Florida. They failed to do that, and in this case, I think they failed from inside a dumpster that was on fire. Even I couldn’t have been able to find Zimmerman guilty as the law is written, and I think he’s a pathetic human being who picked a fight with an unarmed teenager, lost, and shot him because black people are scaaaaaary.

2 – I’ve heard people saying that he was doing his “job” in going after Martin if he was indeed suspicious, and he would have been derelict in duty otherwise. That’s like saying that General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove was justified in blowing up Russia because it was his job to combat fluoridation.

3 – I went to Emmett O’Brien in Ansonia; Kaynor Tech is in Waterbury.

4 – I don’t see a lot of Asian kids being lined up against a wall via stop-and-frisk programs.