By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
The acquittal of the vigilante killer, George Zimmerman, gave notice to the world that racism is alive and well in the United States. For many days after the verdict was handed down, protesters repeatedly took to the streets of cities and towns throughout the U.S. and internationally. The initial marches and rallies ranged up to 5000 in New York City, 2000 in Minneapolis, 1000 in Oakland, and many hundreds in other cities.
On July 13, a Florida jury composed of five white women and one woman of color found Zimmerman not guilty in the slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Although the population of Sanford, Fla., is 30 percent Black, not a single Black person was placed on the jury.
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, told the press that she was shocked at the jury’s verdict: “They didn’t see Trayvon as their son, they didn’t see Trayvon as a teenager, they didn’t see Trayvon as just a human being that was minding his own business.”
In February 2012, George Zimmerman had trailed Martin, first in his car and then on foot, as the Black high school student walked home through a gated community after having bought a snack at a local shop. Within minutes, as Trayvon neared his family’s house, Zimmerman shot the youth through the heart—killing him.
Zimmerman was not taken into custody after killing Martin, and the police did not retain his gun for analysis; Zimmerman was allowed to return home with his weapon. The killer remained free for weeks without having been charged with a crime—until mass protests forced prosecutors to indict him.
Once at trial, however, the court refused to allow the key issue of racial profiling to be examined. This would have had a crucial bearing on determining why Zimmerman had stalked Martin. And so, the jurors never got to hear the fact that ‘Witness 9,” a cousin of Zimmerman, had told a Sanford, Fla., police officer following the shooting, “I know George. And I know that he does not like Black people, and would start something.”
Instead, Zimmerman’s attorneys were given full leeway to build their case on the allegation that their client had killed Trayvon in self-defense, a stance that was bolstered by Florida’s onerous “stand-your-ground” law. The judge denied the prosecution’s motion to instruct the jury that it could consider whether Zimmerman, contrary to his claim of self-defense, had provoked the incident as the “first aggressor.” Pertinent to this issue was the fact that witness Rachel Jeantel had testified that Martin told her from his cell phone that he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker.”
In order to sway the jury, defense attorneys tried to make the victim of the shooting appear to be the villain, as if Trayvon had somehow pulled the trigger! Spurious evidence was entered into the record to show that Trayvon Martin fit the stereotype of a gangster—he wore a hoodie on occasion, had tattoos, and might have smoked marijuana. The picture of Trayvon as a “thug” was parroted by the media, which readily displayed photos and documents that the defense lawyers had given them.
But none of that spoke to the elementary fact that Zimmerman had no legitimate business in pursuing and threatening Martin, let alone killing him. He had even been instructed by the police dispatcher to leave Martin alone. And Trayvon Martin, for his part, had done nothing illegal and had no weapon. His only crime was “walking while Black!”
As Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” writes, “If Trayvon Martin had been born white he would be alive today. That has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty … that views Black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing … [a mindset] that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history.”
Despite the fact that evidence in regard to racial profiling was not allowed into the trial hearing, the jurors appear to have been undecided or split for a time. But in the end, they were guided by the judge’s instructions and what they understood as Florida law on the matter.
Two weeks after the verdict, the only non-white juror (a Latina), spoke from the heart, stating that she felt George Zimmerman “got away with murder.” Juror B29 reported that she had favored convicting Zimmerman of second-degree murder when deliberations began. “I was the juror that was going to give them a hung jury,” she explained. “I fought to the end.” But by the second day, she stated, she no longer felt there was enough evidence to convict Zimmerman under Florida law.
Angry shouts rang out as soon as news of the acquittal reached protesters outside the courthouse. Some people wept at the news. The next day, July 14, attorneys for Trayvon’s family expressed gratitude to the thousands of people who during the past 17 months had demonstrated and signed petitions for justice—many avowing, “I am Trayvon!”
President Obama, on the other hand, took the opportunity to piously declare, “We are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken.” Obama sought to deflect the mass outrage over the verdict into an abstract discussion about “gun violence.”
But the president chose to ignore the fact that “gun violence” in the United State is used as a code word allowing police forces to profile and entrap young Black men in “stop and frisk” operations. The real perpetrators of “gun violence” are commonly the police themselves. The explosive growth of the national security and surveillance industry, especially since 9/11, has only increased the danger of violence toward young Black men.
In July 2012, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement produced a report showing that police and other governmental forces kill a Black man at the rate of one every 28 hours. This rate mirrors the high percentage of Blacks in the U.S. prison system—70 percent of the prison population is non-white; 9.2 percent of African Americans are under correctional control. It is these conditions that sustain and encourage gun-packing vigilantes, wannabe cops, like George Zimmerman.