Rally for Trayvon Martin at Grand Circus Park on July 14, 2013, in Detroit - source: huffpo
Rally for Trayvon Martin at Grand Circus Park in Detroit – source: huffpo

I’ve been following the story of the murder of Trayvon Martin since it exploded onto my newsfeed last year. Now it has reached its awful, unjust, but sadly not surprising conclusion. Last week, a court in Florida ruled that George Zimmerman was within his rights as a citizen to shoot an unarmed black teenager, and to shoot to kill. They ruled that no one was to blame Trayvon Martin’s death, except possibly himself.

I am a white woman who grew up in a country that had a vanishingly small black population until recent years. I grew up in a country that is only now discovering its own capacity for racism. I lived in Chicago for a year, in a pre-dominantly white neighbourhood. Black people are a third of the city’s population, but I can count the times I visited or passed through black neighbourhoods on one hand. I am not Trayvon Martin. I am worlds away from Trayvon Martin. But like hundreds of other people who are not Trayvon Martin, I feel sick to my stomach over this verdict, and sicker still over the fact that there are people who continue to insist that race was not a factor in his murder.

I don’t feel qualified, eloquent or calm enough to speak to my own rage. Fortunately, the internet is full of people who are.

Cord Jefferson explains how the Zimmerman jury just told young black men what they already knew… “that we must always be deferential to white people, or face the very real chance of getting killed.”

Charles M. Blow shows how the system failed Trayvon Martin every step of the way, and asks what exact walking pace will prevent his sons from arousing suspicion.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the irony of American Justice and the nitty-gritty of Stand Your Ground. The Trayvon Martin case “is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended.

Jelani Cobb on the riots that never happened and the “sly inversion at work in the references to lynch mobs and riots, one that takes Zimmerman’s acquittal and expands it to all of American history.”  

When is standing your ground not Stand Your Ground? When you’re a black woman being threatened by your abusive husband, apparently.

Shakesville wrote a post that is definitely nothing to do with Trayvon Martin and also has a brilliant take-down of Richard Cohen’s racism apologia.

Feministing on the weirdly homogenous jury of mostly white woman who returned the Not Guilty verdict, and how white feminists cannot ignore their complicity in this injustice.

Speaking of the jurors, here’s seven fucking unbelievable things that Juror B57 said about the verdict. One of the reasons she felt Zimmerman found Martin suspicious is because it was raining.

Here is your post-racial America, courtesy of Public Shaming. WARNING: contains a lot of really awful, really violent racism.

And for every white person ready to raise the hue and cry of “but I’M not racist!”(because this is all about you and your feelings) and “I don’t even see race!” (because you are a special enlightened snowflake) and “Why are you making this about race?” (because we live in a post-racial society, obviously, see above), please stop and go read through some of this incredibly useful resource list and admit that it’s hard to see racism when you’re white.

Please take the time to click on a link or two or five. Even if, like me, you are not from the USA. Even if, like me, you are so far removed from this mess that you only have to close your laptop to pretend it doesn’t exist. Even if you think these huge difficult issues of race are not your business or your responsibility. Please take some time to read a bit and think about Trayvon Martin and maybe talk about him, tweet about him, put your own thoughts down. Because that’s the only way anything is going to change.

2 thoughts on “trayvon

  1. Ive been following the case too and to be honest I’m kind of torn over this…

    On the one hand, you have an over zealous neighbourhood watch member taking matters into his own hands and acting in a reckless fashion which resulted in the death of a teen.

    On the other, you have a young kid with a taste for ‘thug’ culture who took offence to confrontation and, if reports are to be believed, assaulted someone who confront him.

    I was initially one of the people calling for Zimmerman’s blood, but the more I read into this the murkier it seems to get. Zimmerman and his wife are teachers and tutor underprivileged kids, including blacks, on their own time on a voluntary basis. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to fall into the shoes of a good ol’ racial profiler… Most importantly, he’s not even white. Zimmerman is of Peruvian descent and was, it seems, raised in a Hispanic environment (not that that precludes him from being racist obviously).

    I don’t think anyone will ever know if Zimmerman was truly under the impression that he was in danger or if Martin really didn’t touch him, but if Zimmerman really feared for his life then he was (unfortunately) within his rights to defend himself using any means at his disposal. He was legally carrying a firearm and the law allowed him to use it (not under stand your ground; it’s important to remember that the defence didn’t pursue this route as they felt it didn’t apply) this was plain old self defence, and the jury ruled that he was within his rights to do so.

    For what it’s worth, I think he should be in prison. He acted against the advice of emergency services and confronted what he believed to be a dangerous individual. Even if Trayvon Martin WAS doing something suspicious, Zimmerman knowingly placed himself in a situation which he knew could get ugly, and may only have done this because he knew he had a weapon he could use if required. On the basis of this he should have been found guilty of manslaughter, but not murder.

    However, all of that has pretty much been eclipsed by the events that have occurred since. Everything about the way this case has been portrayed by the media is designed to draw the most emotive cause possible. A lot of the headlines and slants on proceedings are, in my opinion, overt enough to qualify as incitement to riot. We now have crowds of people out crying race war when in reality the case wasn’t particularly racially motivated. The whole white vs black debate that’s raging across America at the moment is entirely irrelevant, the focus should be on the laws that allowed there to be any questions around this verdict in the first place. Huge questions about concealed carry, gun control and stand your ground laws need to be asked, but unfortunately, as the law stands, I think he acted within the bounds of a great big fucked up system.


    • TL;DR – Zimmerman’s individual motivation for killing Trayvon Martin are not the issue. The issue is the entire cultural context in which the shooting took place and justice system handed down the verdict – a context and a system that are unfortunately rampant with racism and racial profiling.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rob. I agree with you on a lot of your points. I agree that gun culture in the US is a massive factor in this case and the fact that Zimmerman had the “right” (and will continue to have the right) to carry a concealed firearm is all kinds of fucked up. I agree that it’s awful – as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in the article I link above – that this conviction was not an example of the system breaking down, it’s the system working exactly as it was intended to. The problem isn’t the verdict, the problem is the entire system supporting and validating the verdict.

      However, I completely disagree with you on the race point and I don’t really understand how you can think it’s irrelevant. Race is a huge factor in this case, because nothing exists in the vacuum, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin occurred in context of a country that has a huge issue of racial profiling, and a state within that country that has particularly problematic history with it.

      It doesn’t matter that Zimmerman seems like a nice guy in other aspects of his life (nor does Martin’s “taste for thug culture”, whatever that means, matter in the slightest). Perfectly nice people can be racist fucks. Perfectly nice people can also not consciously be racist fucks, but can have internalised enough social narratives about young black men to feel like it’s their duty to follow them and report them for suspicious behaviour, like walking slowly in the rain. It definitely doesn’t matter that Zimmerman wasn’t Whitey McWhiterson – once again, the most dangerous and insidious forms of racism are largely internalised. But it is relevant that Zimmerman is not black, because if he was, he would have been arrested and charged on the spot and we never would have heard about this case.

      People keep talking about what Martin was wearing – Richard Cohen called it “a uniform that we all recognize” – but I could have been in exactly the same place in exactly the same outfit that evening in Florida, and I can confidently say that Zimmerman would not have followed me. The only thing that made Martin’s outfit a “uniform” was his black skin, compounded by his age and gender. Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was a young black man, because he lives in a country that constantly reaffirms and validates the idea that it’s ok to do that, because black youth are dangerous. That’s why the race issue matters.

      It matters because there are disproportionately huge numbers of black men in US prisons, black men typically get harsher sentences than their white counterparts and I’ve read so many personal account from black men who have been confronted, interrogated and intimidated by the police for absolutely no reason other than they are black. Even in this very specific self-defense case – there’s a stark divide in conviction rates based on skin colour.

      It also matters because this by no means a unique case – (see the Shakesville link above). Black Americans are often pointlessly murdered by policemen and security guards and self-appointed law enforcers, and their killers walk free with alarming frequency. The cultural message this sends out is that there are no consequences for murdering black people, because black people are worth less and were probably just looking for trouble anyway.

      Only two people know what happened during the altercation that night. One of them is dead of a gunshot wound to the chest, so we all have to go on is the shooter’s version of events, which is that Martin – who has no history of violent behaviour – jumped him as he was going back to his car and then morphed into a raging caricature of a dangerous black youth, smashing his head against the pavement while yelling things like “You gonna die!” This sounds like an outright lie to me, but the jury (composed almost exclusively of white women) obviously believed this was the way it most likely went down. Whatever happened, I have literally no doubt that if the confrontation had ended up the other way round, with Martin shooting Zimmerman, it would be yet another story of a violent young black criminal going to jail for a very long time.

      I’d love if race wasn’t an issue in this. I really would. I would prefer if this was just the sad story of an over-zealous neighbourhood watch guy and the unfortunate teen who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe Zimmerman himself never gave a second thought to Martin’s race (although small comfort to Martin’s family, since he’s dead either way) but trying to discern exactly what was going through Zimmerman’s head that evening is not the issue. The issue is, as you say, that Zimmerman acted within the bounds a great big fucked up system – and you can’t coherently talk about that system without talking about race.


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