A Brief Note About Trayvon Martin
I am not going to go into the facts of this case here. Unless you have chosen to be ignorant or have been living under a rock you should at least know the bare outline. Yes, should.
I am not naive enough to think that the killing of a black boy by a white man in the southern United States is unheard of. I do not and never did think that the Inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama heralded a post-racial America. That claim was always nonsense. One only had to look at how said President Barack Hussein Obama has been treated by all segments of this society. Criticism of his policies grew — perhaps naturally — but always seemed to hover and centre around his skin colour; the critiques are about him and his race and his character and his religion. He was cast as other and therefore unacceptable for leadership the minute he took the Oath of Office. The saddest day of his term in office was when the White House felt compelled to release a copy of the President’s long form birth certificate. The man felt compelled to prove that he belonged, that he was not other. From comments on news articles to promises by elected leaders that their sole goal is to ensure the failure of his presidency and a denial of reelection to claims by Donald Trump and that sheriff in Arizona that he is not American by birth, President Obama has been battered while in office. I do think that there is much criticism that can be levied at his policies and leadership strategy but I find little merit in the kinds of attacks that I have seen. This is beyond mere ad hominem attack. Is it any wonder that this man is cool and careful in his presentations and interactions with the public? Lest he prove the stereotype of angry black man. I cannot imagine the thickness of his skin. A man of lesser character and resolve would not have lasted this long. So, like it or not, race still matters in this country. Post-racial America is a myth, a Kaiser Solze style bamboozlement of all of this country’s citizens, of whatever race or ethnic background. A friend of mine has said (paraphrasing): welcome to black history in America, from Emmet Till to Trayvon Martin. I give you: American Exceptionalism.
Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground Law” is, simply, bad law based on bad policy; too much protection given to the aggressor and scant deference or even empowerment is given to the authorities responsible for investigating and prosecuting crime. The Second Amendment and the common law right to protect one’s self or one’s home (or both) notwithstanding still leads me to find this law and others like it true abominations. (Similar laws have been enacted in 16 other states.)
Even absent Trayvon being black and George Zimmerman being a white-skinned Hispanic man, the facts and law at issue in this case are absolutely, unequivocally abhorrent and unacceptable to me. (And let’s clear this up: just because Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic and has black friends does not mean that he cannot be racist. Did you know that black people can be racist too? Racism isn’t an affliction of one race. OK.) That race (overwhelmingly) seems to be a factor in how Mr. Zimmerman perceived, classified, and treated Trayvon Martin makes this situation so much worse for me, a black Jamaican woman living in the United States. One of the many people I have talked to about this case has raised several points about the now ongoing and hopefully growing outrage and protest that, while I find valid, do not negate the validity or necessity of said outrage and protest. To sum up she wonders whether this country has collective amnesia about how short a time ago it was segregation was the norm. I agree about the collective amnesia but I think that, generally, the outrage and protest epitomizes a need for justice as well as a frustration with the racism that still exists in the U.S. of A. Most folks believe and know that racism still exists but in a way we have been lulled into complacency and cling to wilfull ignorance about the current state of things. Don’t want to upset anything especially with a black President in office. Plus, many of us black people have been made to feel guilty and accept feeling guilty about highlighting and rejecting instances of racist treatment. To expand my previous question: why don’t we talk about slavery and colonialism and its lingering, still ingrained effects? Yet the demand for justice for Trayvon Martin is not invalidated by our previous inaction…perhaps now our consciousness has been awakened and we’ll be more mindful and proactive about addressing the institutionalization and pervasiveness that racism enjoys. Time will tell what we will do with this outrage and protest.
This case IRKS me for several reasons, it has gotten under my skin. As a lawyer it irks me. This NOT justice. This is not a even a small window into justice. I have wrestled with my emotions and beliefs about this case. As is common with me my emotions butt up against my training. Considering he public facts and the interpretations of the law that I have read plus my own interpretation of the law leaves me unable to understand how it is that the Sanford, FL Police Department did not do more investigation into this incident. I am also unable to accept their claims that they did a good investigation. They did not sufficiently probe the claims made by Mr. Zimmerman and I worry now that even though the federal government and Florida have initiated high-level inquiry that the dearth of investigation by the police department have irreparably damaged the ability of the prosecution to bring its best case. Searching in vain in my admittedly still young but no-less sharp legal training for an answer to how the application of this law to these facts has come to this. Not even a manslaughter charge? I mean, did they listen to those 911 tapes? Test for drugs and alcohol? Mental evaluations? Ballistics tests? Check cell phone records? Get thorough eye witness statements? Where is Trayvon’s cell phone? No answers…except that this is not justice and cannot be accepted.
I am one of those rare (I’ve come to realize) persons who actually went to law school because she wanted to help people. I have long envisioned a way for me to use the skills and benefits of the many opportunities that I have had to help others bridge the gap that exists between them and their dreams and between them and justice. I had a very hard time communicating that in my law school application essays because while I know that it has become a cliché of which admissions personnel are tired, it is truly something that I believe. Actually it’s something that I need for myself. So to see this Trayvon Martin case unfold, to know that there is a good chance that George Zimmerman will not be charged, and to know that Trayvon Martin is not the first or the last person to be a victim of inequitable laws and treatment because of race shakes me to the core. Beliefs, professional duties and expectations, professional goals. Shaken though not crumbled. Because, you see, to know “it” all along yet have “it” hang out on the periphery of my life is one thing; to have “it” brought into sharp focus by an incident like this is quite another.
As a woman imagining and longing for the day when I have children and little by little preparing to send them out into to the world it angers me. And it scares me. Every time I hear this child’s mother on the radio the grief in her voice shakes me to the core. The grief etched on his father’s face is…indescribable. I worry for my nephews and young male cousins. Will my sweet nephews remember and hold fast to the good training that their mother has taught them and the pride in themselves that she has instilled in them once they’re out in the world when they have to confront these kinds of injustices? Will it even help them if they do?
As a human being it is appalling and completely unacceptable. There’s no excuse or justification. There is no comfort that can be offered to this boy’s family to ease the grief and loss that they must be feeling. My own conflicts that arise from this matter may even be trite and selfish when compared to their suffering. Yet I won’t and can’t dismiss what I feel…as I can’t and won’t forget that as much as this is about racism, injustice, and the need for justice. Laws like this, situations like this, unaccountably for murders like this cannot be right.
And while I’m at it – my humble advice to American leaders regarding the lessons to be learned from the also unfolding case surrounding Staff Sergeant Bales’ actions: please give your attention to cleaning up your own country before venturing out…again.