One of the things I find the most amusing about Americans is how selective we are with our outrage. After George Zimmerman’s verdict of acquittal in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin went public on July 13, 2013, the internet exploded with tweets, status updates, and blogs about how the criminal justice system in this country has failed us. That everyone should now suddenly be in fear for their safety after an alleged child murderer was allowed to walk free. To all those I reply with an emphatic, boo-fucking-hoo. Now before you hunt me down like a dog and shoot me in self-defense, let me first offer you an explanation.
What is the real issue in the Trayvon Martin case people? What is it about this particular case that has you so hot and bothered? Nobody likes to talk about ethnicity anymore, as color is supposedly no longer a factor in our current “post-racial” society. So, to the outraged people, I just have to ask: have you really convinced yourself that your passion and devotion to this case is simply about a child getting gunned down — or is it about an African American child getting gunned down? If this case to you is solely about any kid getting gunned down by any overzealous night watch dude, then congratulations, you are one of the six people on the planet Earth who are capable of seeing past skin color. For everyone else, you are a major part of the problem.
America is, in many ways, just as much of the ethnocentric society that it has always been. A popular topic I’ve seen circulating the internet has been “If Trayvon Martin were white and George Zimmerman were black, then he would have been found guilty.” Interestingly enough, I have another absolutely pointless hypothetical perspective: If Trayvon Martin were black and George Zimmerman were black, you would not give a shit about this case. Is that a bold claim? Not really. Questionable shooting cases involving black police officers shooting black suspects get little more than a mere nod from local coverage. Clearly, there can only be foul play involved when a member of a different ethic background kills someone outside of that ethnicity.
Oh, but, but, but — “Zimmerman wasn’t a police officer, he was a lame flashlight cop with a gun,” you say? Alright so let’s talk facts. What do we know for certain? Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to approach Trayvon even after the police dispatcher he called told him to stay in his vehicle. People seem to think that this fact automatically implicates George Zimmerman in everything proceeding that action. Luckily for every American citizen, that is just not how the United States legal system classifies murder. The fact that Zimmerman was an idiot is pretty much the general consensus amongst my colleagues in the criminal justice field. But being dumb enough to get out of his car does not make George Zimmerman a murderer. In an inverse scenario, it would be like saying that a woman who sees a creepy guy circling her vehicle and still decides to get out of her car is not a victim of rape because she was dumb enough to exit the vehicle despite a police dispatcher’s instructions to remain inside. Legal culpability is just not classified that way, folks.
Sure you could suggest that if Zimmerman complied to the police dispatcher’s request then none of this would have happened but that would be a facile argument. It would be just as facile as me suggesting that Trayvon Martin could have just ran home or simply called the police and informed them that a creepy weirdo was following him. So all we know factually is that Zimmerman exited his vehicle, a fight occurred, and Trayvon ended up dead as a result. We do not know for sure who initiated physical contact, what words were exchanged, and how the gun came in to play. The prosecution had that burden of proof and, in my opinion, they did a piss poor job in proving it. Nobody upset with the Zimmerman verdict can articulate with any certainty exactly what happened after he exited that car. Is it possible that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman? Yes. Is it possible that Zimmerman attacked Trayvon Martin? Yes, it is. All of that coupled with the bravado of Zimmerman’s defense attorney Don West spelled a verdict that I as well as many of my colleagues in the criminal justice field saw coming a mile away.
A lot of the same black people who are outraged about a black kid getting gunned down by an overzealous, half-Caucasian neighborhood watch dude are the same people who cheered when OJ Simpson walked free. I don’t know if the term “selective justice” even exists, but maybe it should. The media feeds on this in the form of their advertising dollars as countless lower-profile murders involving black people killing black people or white people killing white people are swept under the carpet in favor of the stories they would prefer us to focus on. Because those other lives, deaths, and sentences just aren’t as interesting as when we interracially murder each other. There were 20 murders the first week of July in Chicago — how much have you heard about any of them?
My first wish for people is that they would simply learn to be more consistent with their outrage. My second wish for people is that they would be motivated to do something constructive with that emotion. Want to be heartbroken over the Zimmerman verdict? That’s cool. I don’t see you bawling your eyes out over the hundreds of innocent children killed annually in US drone strikes in other countries. Oh, well, that’s different right? Why? Why don’t you change your meaningless Facebook pictures in support of them? Want to know why? Because you don’t give a shit about them. Why don’t you flip out when innocent people get sentenced to decades in prison right here in the good ol’ United States of America, only to find out they were wrongfully convicted? Oh, because that’s not really relevant to your life. How can you complain about a broken, preferential, criminal justice system when you only care about the wrongdoing in cases that are relevant to your own tiny little vortex of existence while all other wrongdoing goes unchecked?
I can admit that my personal intuition tells me that Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, but justice isn’t about my own personal intuition. Do black people get arrested and convicted more often for committing the same crimes as white people? Sure. Do black people still get profiled as criminals more in this country than other nationalities? Most definitely. Are prisons in America still filled with more African Americans than other another ethnicity? You betcha. Hell, I’ve been a member on legal teams that have been fighting for many of these people’s freedom for the last three years of my life. Does complaining about injustices on your Facebook timeline change anything? Not for a single solitary second. In translation, go out there, get involved, and do something or shut your mouth. If this is going to be a distant memory to you 30 days from now then spare everyone your activism talk.
RIP to Trayvon Martin. I hope your death galvanizes people to do more than grumble on the internet and change profile pictures to black squares.
And RIP to Oscar Grant also. A man who was shot and killed at point blank range while lying handcuffed on the ground by law enforcement personnel.