Op-Ed: Trayvon Martin case about much more than race

Posted Apr 12, 2012 by Sadiq Green
In less than 24 hours after stating she solely determine the fate of the Trayvon Martin case, Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey held a news conference to announce the filing of a second degree murder charge against George Zimmerman and his arrest.
Packing his concealed 9mm pistol  a self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman  shot dead 17-year-old ...
Packing his concealed 9mm pistol, a self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman, shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
Handout photo
“Today, we filed an information charging George Zimmerman with Murder in the Second Degree. A capias has been issued for his arrest.” – Angela Corey, Florida Special Prosecutor
The decision by Corey to charge Zimmerman closes one chapter of a tragic event and opens a new one. As has been widely reported, Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26 while walking in a suburban Orlando neighborhood, en route home from a 7-Eleven store armed with a bag of Skittles candy and iced tea.
Rolling Out Magazine
Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he described as “suspicious looking”, and pursued him despite being told by a non-emergency 911 operator not to follow the youth. Soon after Martin ended up dead, gunned down by Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law. Initially, Sanford police took Zimmerman into custody, but released him in spite of a chief investigating officer’s insistence the unofficial neighborhood watch volunteer should be arrested. Yesterday, Zimmerman surrendered voluntarily to the police and was taken into custody. He has[ url= t=_blank]retained new counsel.
The outcry in the Sanford Black community over the failure of police to initially arrest George Zimmerman hit the social media network and mushroomed quickly into a national movement. Martin’s death spawned protests around the country and globe, with major civil rights organizations from across the nation calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. Over 2 million people signed an online petition demanding his arrest. The seeming injustice in the death of the Black youth touched a nerve across the racial divide too, as many Whites also joined in the call for Zimmerman’s arrest.
However, there remained a hard core base of Whites who empathized with Zimmerman and took aim at Martin. The dead youth was demonized on right-wing talk radio programs and television. One of the most egregious insults came from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera who inferred Martin contributed to his own death by wearing a hooded sweatshirt or “hoodie.” The garment took on great symbolic meaning over the last month as protesters donned hoodies in marches across the country. Celebrities and social media users took photographs wearing the garment and posted the snapshots online in a show of solidarity with the slain youth.
It seems a great deal of energy is being spent trying to remove “race” as a factor in the shooting death Martin. The refusal to acknowledge race is not only the spin of conservatives but also some progressives who in trying to be “progressive” and are pushing the line that Trayvon’s death has nothing at all to do with race. It is beyond belief that anyone could claim race was not a factor in the death of this innocent teenager. How many young White males fall victim to such random acts of violence as they casually go about their business? The painful truth is that the life expectancy of adult Black males is compromised by society’s warped perception of Black boys.
Instead of retreating on race, as we Americans tend to do, Trayvon Martin’s death is a moment in which we need to fully engage the issue of how young Black men are perceived, treated and discarded. Justice for Trayvon Martin cannot simply be the arrest of George Zimmerman; it must be the acknowledgement of a deeper rooted truth about how race still conditions how young black males are treated in this country. America has to ignore the stupidity of the talking heads on right-wing cable television and talk radio, and the insensitivity of politicians and political hacks. The focus should be on justice for Trayvon Martin America might not want to talk about race.
We have witnessed the attempt to suggest Trayvon provoked his own death because he was wearing a hoodie. Likewise, we have listened to Fox News commentator Juan Williams criticize African-Americans for not being equally concerned about so-called “Black on Black” crime. Williams must be ignorant to the fact that in communities across the country, African-Americans have been waging a campaign against violence while his network promotes gun control issues. Equally outrageous is the trend of blaming the manner of dress of young Black men for their violent end. We might not approve of the attire of young Black men, but it does not give anyone the right to shoot them like animals nor should they have to alter their appearance for the right to live.
Some suggest that George Zimmerman could not have been affected by race because he is Hispanic. That is a curious contention, especially when you realize some of the police officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge shooting in New Orleans, where innocent Black residents were killed and injured, were African-American. Bernie Madoff is Jewish and took advantage of fellow Jews in his financial fraud. DC sniper John Allen Muhammad was African-American, but did not spare Blacks from his terror. The race of the accused does not disqualify race as a factor in consideration of the motivation behind their behavior. Sometimes self-hatred is deeply rooted and manifests in the mistreatment of people who are reflected in the mirror of the perpetrators of injustice.
The rhetoric of the right and the surrender of the left on addressing the impact of racism on African-Americans is nothing new. It is common whenever these tragedies occur for there to be immediate sympathy and equally swift backlash against any attempt to discuss the possibility that race could be a factor. It brings to mind the James Byrd incident when there was a concerted effort to suggest that his being an African-American had nothing to do with his horrific murder. It is precisely this practice of denial that prevents our nation from moving forward. We learn nothing; and gain less if we fold from the discussion of race in the death of Trayvon Martin. The attempt to sweep race under the rug should be fought against. It is only when Americans are forced to confront the ugliness of racism that significant positive changes happen.
The Martin case now enters a new phase. Prosecutor Corey has declared her intention to try the case in Seminole County, but the issue of jury selection will likely become a major sticking point with Zimmerman’s defense counsel. His new attorney Mark O’Mara, a well-known figure in Florida legal circles, has already expressed doubts that an impartial jury can be empaneled in Seminole County given the pre-trial publicity. There will likely be some concern among Martin supporters too over the selection of a jury in the county.
There has been a push to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the Sanford police department. There are clear examples that demonstrate the neglect of official police duty and procedure in regards to investigating Trayvon Martin’s death ;drug testing the dead teen but not his killer; no canvassing the area to determine who Martin was; not trying to call any contacts on Martin’s recovered cell-phone to attempt to identify him; his body remained in the mourge for three days as a John Doe, while police reports identify the 17 year old; the changing of official police records. These are just some examples of poor police work that needs to be looked into. The case stoked decades old resentment from African–Americans in the Sanford community, who say they are routinely mistreated by police. The sheriff who was at the helm of the department when Trayvon Martin was killed has stepped down.
The key point of contention will likely be the state’s controversial “Stand your Ground” law and whether Zimmerman was within his legal right under the law and acting in self-defense when he shot Martin. That should not have been for the police to determine and Martin will have to convince a judge to allow him to use that defense. The case could wind up as a no-win proposition for both sides and ultimately cause further resentment of the criminal justice system in Florida.