Justice for Trayvon Martin will take more than a trial

Justice for Trayvon Martin will take more than a trial

July 16th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Abdul Kebbeh, 6, holds a sign at Westlake Park on Sunday in downtown Seattle. Hundreds of people gathered to march in protest over the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

What can you say about Saturday's all-women, all-white jury verdict acquitting neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman of both the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges from the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.?

That justice was done? Technically, perhaps yes. In a case where there were no eye witnesses to say what actually happened, jurors probably did have reasonable doubt about whether Zimmerman could be in fear for his life.

Was justice done in reality? No way.

A grown man went looking for a fight when Zimmerman stuffed a gun in his pants and went out patrolling and profiling for a "suspect." Then he followed a black teen in a hoodie who didn't so much as make a rude hand sign to him. All the while, Zimmerman muttered racial slurs and things like: "F---king punks, ... they always get away."

Then the vigilante got out of his car and followed the youngster, who was armed only with Skittles -- and, oh yeah, concrete, if you believe that Martin, in his own fit of self-defense, rolled the vigilante over onto the sidewalk before the vigilante put a bullet squarely in Martin's heart.

Not only was Zimmerman a wanna-be cop, turns out he was a dead-on shot.

But the real verdict -- borne out in post-verdict talks around the country Sunday and Monday -- is that racism and race fear are insidiously alive and well in America.

On Facebook, on television, on radio talk shows, scores of people talked about the verdict almost as a litmus test of blacks' value to society.

Candace McRae Walsh, a black Tennessean and former Chattanoogan, said the verdict was a hard thing to explain to her 13-year-old son.

Walsh, who said she saw a scenario in which both Martin and Zimmerman acted in self-defense, told her son: "It's all about perceptions, and everything is not always black and white."

She told him she saw the situation this way: It's a rainy night at o'clock, Zimmerman sees a guy walking in a black hoodie and he perceives a guy up to no good. This is what we see in the media. This is the lifestyle glorified in music videos. Martin, on the other hand, sees a "creepy ... cracker" following him. He's 17, and his adrenaline gets pumping, and he's all prepared to whip somebody's butt.

"I don't half blame the child for trying to defend himself, and I don't half blame the guy for trying to defend himself. But it all comes down to perceptions," Walsh said. "I want to see us all talk a little more."

Until then, she's having to tell her son something she wishes she didn't have to say.

"Son, people size you up a lot of times by the way you look, so I can't let you walk around with your hat turned around and your pants hanging down and your chains hanging, or you could end up in a grave like Trayvon."

It's hard for him to understand. "He heard it, but come on -- he's 13," Walsh said. "It makes me sad. I never thought the same discussion my parents had to have with me would be what I have to have with my child in 2013."

Over the radio waves, that discussion black parents have their children -- particularly their sons -- was termed "the talk." It entails advice about how to stay alive and uninjured if you are pulled over or questioned by police. It goes like this: Don't make sudden moves. Keep your hands out of your pockets and visible at all times. Speak respectfully even if you don't feel that way.

It's not a conversation many whites have to have. In fact, whites tend to tell their children to seek out police.

Even though Zimmerman wasn't a police officer, his perception that Martin was a threat or suspect drove home the stereotypes that haunt us as a nation.

Even the often-spoken concerns about protests after the verdict held racial connotations.

So, in the end, if any justice is to come from the death of a 17-year-old who just wanted some tea and Skittles, it must come from all of us. It certainly won't come from our leaders who tend only to legislate laws making fear and vigilantism easier with no sensible gun control but plenty of bills such as Florida's and Tennessee's so-called "Stand Your Ground" legislation. And it won't come from television and movies, or even from headlines.

Instead, justice must come with conversations about who we are, not how we look. It must come from setting fear aside and not letting it rob us of our senses, as it did both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

It's really a shame that neither of them -- especially Zimmerman, the adult -- didn't use a little reasonable doubt before they acted out of fear on that rainy dark night in Florida.