About That Honest Conversation, the Zimmerman Aftermath Rolls On

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend” – Abraham Lincoln

The George Zimmerman criminal trial is over, though any number of other legal troubles could remain, and the nation is still trying to grapple with the outcome and its implications. Folks like Al Sharpton are calling for “an honest national conversation on race and the issues brought up by this trial” – and I think this is a good thing [side note: I’m paraphrasing what I heard Sharpton say]. It’s good to talk. It’s good to pull the thread on difficult issues. Iron sharpens iron.

So, I shall attempt to pull the thread on the issues that most caught my eye during this case.

The System Ain’t Fair …

This case was not about fairness in the conviction and sentencing criteria of the criminal justice system, but the issue came up time and again as the case was discussed. Conviction rates, sentencing duration, and presumption of guilt (e.g., “stop & frisk”) – it all cuts against blacks. Same crime? More likely to be convicted. Same conviction? More likely to get a harsher sentence. Same outfit? More likely to get stopped and questioned.

I don’t think the government (federal, state, or local) should spend any time working as “thought police” to re-educate the populace. But it certainly seems that there should be the capacity for a color-blind justice system.

You Can’t Hide from Your Subconscious …

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” – Matt 7:16. People can lie to others with their words. They can even deceive themselves. But the fruit that comes out of your life, now that is something much harder to confuse.

In the same way, people can hardly get around their subconscious. We may say “I don’t have any prejudice” but we will find them trickling out when we’re least aware. ABC did a funny little bit on it recently, showing how people respond to different people stealing a bike:

The video is interesting, though I will note that it is an ABC video and I have no way of verifying just how much creative editing they did to get to the right “narrative”. That said, I find it completely believable. It’s subconscious. People have prejudices that they may not even understand.

The System Worked …

This is a tough one, I mean a real tough one for folks to grapple with sometimes. The job of the jury is to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crimes with which he was charged. The state and the evidence didn’t even come close.

George Zimmerman was on trial for second-degree murder (and by extension manslaughter). He wasn’t on trial for profiling, he wasn’t on trial for being wrong in his assumption about Trayvon Martin being “up to no good”, he wasn’t on trial for being an overzealous neighborhood watchman. He was on trial for second-degree murder and manslaughter.

George Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense after Trayvon Martin attacked him. The evidence corroborated his story. The witnesses corroborated his story. There was no proof that he didn’t act in self-defense. Thus, the system could not rightly convict him of second-degree murder (or manslaughter).

Who started the fight? We don’t know. But this was not a “stand your ground” case – Zimmerman claimed simple self-defense. It could not be proved otherwise, so he was acquitted. That’s the way the system works (and that’s the way it should work for everybody).

Till, Faulkner, Goldman, Martin …

On 28 August 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally tortured and murdered by Ronald Bryant and J. W. Milam for the crime of, perish the thought, speaking to a white woman (Bryant’s wife) in a store. There were days between the events, but when Bryant and Milan finally found Till they dragged him to a barn in the middle of the night, beat him, gouged out an eye, shot him in the head, tied a 70-pound cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire, and chucked his body into the river. There were plenty of witnesses. Bryant and Milan were acquitted (and later confessed to the crime, once “double jeopardy” was in play).

On 9 December 1981, 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer Dan Faulkner was gunned down in the street during a routine traffic stop of a gentleman named William Cook. Cook didn’t do the shooting, nor did anyone in the car. No, the shooting was done by Cook’s older brother who was across the street. Upon seeing the stopped car he rushed to the scene and unloaded five shots on Faulkner (who did get off a few shots himself). The assailant? Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of first degree murder. To this day Jamal, somewhat of a civil rights icon, has supporters in America and around the world, claiming he is innocent because a 1981 Philadelphia jury couldn’t possibly have been unbiased. (That’s right, the jury might, might have been biased in 1981 Philly – therefore Abu-Jamal couldn’t have committed murder in broad daylight with multiple eye witnesses and a murder weapon laying by his side with five spent shell casings.)

On 12 June 1994 25-year-old Ron Goldman was slashed to death by Orenthal James Simpson. His crime? He was apparently returning a pair of glasses left at the restaurant (Goldman was a waiter) by Nicole Brown Simpson’s mother. There have been some who claimed Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson (OJ’s ex-wife) were lovers, but it is also plausible that he was just an acquaintance and happened late upon the murder scene, where OJ had to off him to eliminate a witness. Despite the near slam-dunk status of the evidence against OJ, and dead giveaway guilty behavior (white bronco), OJ was acquitted of the gruesome double murder.

On 26 February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by overzealous neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. You know the story, Zimmerman was acquitted.

Justice ought to be color blind. It ought to treat one person the same as another, regardless of race, gender, etc. That’s the way it should be and that is the system we should all want, not a system that “settles old scores”. We can’t presume the white man is innocent, because the victims were black; nor can we presume that the black man is innocent, because the victims were white and the system has been unfair for so many years.

Honest conversation? Fine. To Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or my many black friends: how did you react when OJ was acquitted? There was a mountain of evidence against him (vastly more than faced Zimmerman). Did you celebrate because there was finally retribution for Emmett Till? Or did you weep that a guilty man – a murderer – went free after a gruesome double homicide?

I was in college when the OJ verdict was read. There was shock in the main hall of the student union – and there was jubilation from the black cultural center (just across the hall). I’ve heard it said that this was the moment “white America” went fully into indifference. The disconnect was so wide that there was just no more point in talking. Perhaps the conversation died off a bit.

Shouting “Fire” in a Crowded Theater …

In the weeks and months after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the American news media went on a search for a race-based story. They pulled audio from the 911 call and claimed Zimmerman said “f***ing coon” – a racial epithet. Upon further review it appears that he said “it’s f***ing cold” – a very different story.

Since this storyline didn’t take, NBC stepped it up a bit and edited the 911 tape and gave Zimmerman credit for saying “This guy looks like he’s up to no good … He looks black.” What they didn’t tell you is in that ellipsis Zimmerman indicated that Martin was wandering around and looked like he was on drugs – but did not offer or reference Martin’s skin color until the 911 operator specifically asked.

Out of curiosity, how much of the current rancor (protests – with some destruction of property and reports of assaults) can be attributed to NBC ginning up false statements to stoke racial tensions? I suspect that one might end up at trial too.

We’re Not Done Yet …

The legal matters will continue for both sides. The Martin family will bring a civil suit (much lower burden of proof). The Zimmerman legal team will seek sanctions against the state and the prosecution for hiding evidence. They will also seek damages from the state and a payout for NBC. The DOJ may bring civil rights charges (though, legal experts seem to think it’s a non-starter as they would have to prove the case the state just lost … badly).

Beyond legal, there are the protests and demonstrations. Folks will boycott Florida (that’s freedom of association). There will be more property damage, though it has been minor compared to what I originally feared. There will be more “retribution” attacks, though it seems difficult to quantify how many of said attacks simply use the Zimmerman acquittal as cover instead of actual motivation.

So, we’re not done yet. Not done with the legal issues, or the rancor, but we are also hopefully not done with that conversation – because it is a conversation worth having.

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6 Responses to About That Honest Conversation, the Zimmerman Aftermath Rolls On

  1. jefe says:

    There is a best selling novel a client recommended to me months ago called ‘warmth of other suns’ the book chronicles the journey of 3 different black people as they migrate from Jim crow south to the north. I HIGHLY recommend you reading this book. One of the main characters migrates from Sanford florida to Harlem.

    The 100 years between slavery and civil rights movement were described by most as worse than slavery. So bad in fact, that survivors of this period dared not mention the details to their children. Not just emmit till. Hundreds of examples of terrorism documented and undocumented. And these examples did go away when blacks reached northern cities. No, these blacks were met by whole towns thousands deep telling them they were not wanted here. Beaten, burned, castrated, mutilated and killed.

    This is the sordid reality of race relations. It will always remain mostly black and white because of the institution. Terrorism. Government supported. Society endorsed. Active physical and psychological forceful oppression of the descendants of the people who were only 3/5 recognized. And white america can’t get over o.j.?

    Plaxico burress spent 2 years in prison for shooting himself in the leg. Michael Vick is still hated even after serving time. And zimmerman was ‘justified’ in white America’s eyes because trayvon was what? Suspicious? On drugs? Muscular? Threatining? A 17 year old was stalked by a 30 year old man WITH A CRIMINAL RECORD. And trayvon DIDN’T have the right to fight back? In the subconscious of most whites, the answer is no. Martin shouldve shucked and jived instead of defending himself. As one juror said, “if he wasnt doing anything, he shouldnt have minded being followed” by a stranger? At night?

    Imagine your spouse admitting to an affair. Painful! Now imagine you knowing every detail of the affair. White America conveniently forgets its sordid past. The details are much worse than segregation…human rights violations to the nth power. Stolen labor. Stolen lives. Til at least 1965. (And Im being nice). Thats less than 50 years. More commentary later.

    • nomasir says:

      Yeah, I honestly don’t get either the Burress or Vick thing. I thought those sentences were well beyond any “crime” committed. Way out of kilter.

      I’m not so sure it’s that white America can’t “get over” OJ. It’s mostly water under the bridge at this point. I don’t think there’s any “axe to grind” there. I do think that “white America” made a departure at the OJ case. There was (perhaps in the subconscious) this hope that we could get beyond, that we could move toward the future, the good solution, the honest and fair society – regardless of the past (bold words, I know). The OJ case made it clear to white America that we weren’t there yet. (Of course, that’s been 20 years now, but white America has in no small part “disengaged” the conversation.) I simply brought up OJ to follow in the Jefe Ocho footsteps of pointing out the contradiction (though, you usually do so with Republican/Democrat issues … but I am neither, as you well know).

      I honestly don’t think white America forgets its sordid past. I really don’t. It’s there, it’s real, the histories are undeniable. I will say that 39-year-old (that’s me) white America will sometimes question the notion of modern guilt. I never owned slaves. I was never involved with the Klan. (Nor was any of my family as far as I can tell.) 1965 … I was born in 1974.

      Obviously it is fair in such a context to discuss the notion of “white privilege” – which I think we at least touched on with the discussion of the unfair system and the humorous ABC montage. (Sidebar: the jaw-dropping moment really was when people actually HELPED the cute little blonde girl steal the bike.)

      As for Trayvon Martin I don’t think I ever denied his right to self-defense. The fact is we don’t “know” what happened that night. It is possible the prosecution story is correct: Zimmerman chased (this we do know), Zimmerman accosted, escalated, and ultimately murdered. It is also possible that the defense story is correct: Zimmerman chased, disengaged, Martin ambushed, Zimmerman defended himself. We do not know what happened, and none of the evidence at the trial could prove beyond a reasonable doubt (though I will note again that the evidence clearly did not contradict Zimmerman’s story – this doesn’t make him innocent, it just means the evidence didn’t contradict his story). Nor do I (I won’t speak for white America here) hold that Zimmerman was “justified” – only that the prosecution and the available evidence could not prove otherwise. And it is that proof that is necessary in a criminal trial (though not in a civil trial, which has yet to play out).

      My interests though lie in the future, the ministry of reconciliation as it were. I don’t think anyone is denying the past, or even the present (well, perhaps some folks are), but we either move toward a future that is just and legally color-blind, or we continue this back & forth. Everybody has an interest in the former (well, almost everybody – there are some who stand to profit from the latter). That future is not one-sided. It fixes the inherent prejudices of the system … of all the systems. It holds men guilty for their own wrongs, but never the wrongs of others.

      … but I also fear that the nation has become a tinder-box, and I’m not hopeful that this is a good thing.

  2. bevylynn says:

    I have to admit I don’t understand a lot of this. For all intensive purposes, I am white, grew up in the suburbs and most of my friends are all of similar socio-economic status. Watching from afar, it seems like everyone on all sides are forgetting that this was a tragedy. A kid is dead, a man now has to live the fact that he killed a kid, self-defense or not. There should be no rejoicing or retribution. I hated listening to be people be joyful as a mother is mourning her son and the fact that now I am more scared about walking around Baltimore. (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-monday-20130715,0,5135359.story)

    Jefe, you said ” This is the sordid reality of race relations. It will always remain mostly black and white because of the institution. Terrorism. Government supported. Society endorsed. Active physical and psychological forceful oppression of the descendants of the people who were only 3/5 recognized. ” after talking about the years before the civil rights. Has the world not changed at all? Generations of folks, like myself, never new an America with that forceful oppression or even before the civil rights movement?

    I do believe that I have prejudice and I am not sure why. (nomasir, I think we have had conversations about this in the past.) If it is indeed our culture that is enforcing this, what are you doing to change it? It has to be changed in the hearts and minds of people, not programs, for any difference to be made. At this point, in theory, the law treats us all equally, so it is people’s hearts that need to change. I would like to think that I treat all the same, but I know that if I see a group of young men (white, black or purple) loitering about in saggy pants and smoking and laughing, I am going to avoid them. If I saw them stealing a bike, I would run away and call the cops. (it I saw a pretty blonde girl stealing a bike, I would chew her out).

    I think that perhaps its our everyday conversations. I saw a conversation on facebook by some acquaintances that is really bothering me. A (white) woman posted an article about white privilege and how black young men are going to be accused or suspect at some point in their lives and this is the comment she made:
    “…I often wonder if it is hard for white parents of black children to understand that they need to teach these things to their sons? Does think much about what it will mean to prepare Connor for life as a black man?”

    Should we be teaching our children this?! Is this enforcing a cultural shift to love equally and without bounds or is this perpetuating a self fulfilling prophecy? My first thought is that by raising someone to believe that everyone is out to get them will lead them to act differently. Am I simply being extremely naive?

    My prayer is that I am able to raise my son to love all and treat everyone with respect.

    • jefe says:

      In response to the raising of a black man, if you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are going. My parents and grandparents did my generation a great disservice by not teaching us to embrace our past. Painful, yes. Ugly, no doubt but necessary. Understanding where I fit in to this unique American experience was grounding for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean hating ‘the man’ but it will bring purpose to any endeavor he strives for in life. This is no different than any other group.

      • bevylynn says:

        I suppose I am just being naive then. My mom is Chinese and that heritage means little to nothing to who I am as a person. I have dark hair and we ate a lot of rice growing up. I know some of my grandparents’ stories escaping from the terrible atrocities over there and yes, it is great to be able to see God’s hand at work in amazing stories, but it still has nothing to do with where I am going. Every choice I make is mine alone and has nothing to do with where I come from.

        My parents and grandparents greatest legacy was not one of culture (especially one they were trying to escape) but of faith. My ancestry does not define me or how I think or what I do. Every action comes down to a choice. If people choose to treat me differently because I am a woman or Chinese (both has happened in the past) it still does not control how I react or what I do. I can do NOTHING to control what others do, I can only control what I do, say and think.

  3. jefe says:

    In all fairness, I live in a mostly white world. I am appreciated for what I do by people not like me. I appreciate how far we have come as a country for me to even be able to say that. I am in the fitness industry…the other day, one of my staff asked for my help locating a loud squeak on a machine. The squeak sounded like a deep full moan. I looked at my pt client and laughed because the moan sounded like a deep story of despair that older blacks know well. The other two in the convo were Nigerian and Ethiopian. They had no idea what we were laughing about. That moan that gave birth to gospel, blues, country and rock and roll…we instinctively knew it. The black experience in America. I grew up with a grandmother who was a sharecropper. Sharecropping was not much better than slavery as landowners would fix the books keeping the sharecroppers in perpetual debt. She died only a couple of years ago. So our past is fresh…and our wounds, although healing, are fresh. My life is great don’t get me wrong, but i am still connected to my people and tragedies like this painfully remind me of this fact.

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