American Justice System—Verdict: Racist

American Justice System—Verdict: Racist

Protesters gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to protest the verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman. Photo by Allie Morris/PBS NewsHour
Protesters gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to protest the verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman. Photo by Allie Morris/PBS NewsHour

“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.” 
― W.E.B. Du BoisThe Souls of Black Folk

George Zimmerman, not guilty. Trayvon Martin, dead… and guilty of Walking in a White Neighborhood While Black -- Armed with Skittles and an Iced Tea. Michael Moore tweeted: “Had a gun-toting Trayvon Martin stalked an unarmed George Zimmerman and then shot him to death…do I even need to complete this sentence?”

This is a day not only to mourn Trayvon Martin, but justice in America, as well. George Zimmerman was not the only one on trial. America was on trial in that southern courtroom. The black hoodie made famous by Trayvon’s supporters, becomes a shroud because justice was buried in that “not guilty” verdict. Even the shiny words of a black president, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin” could not uphold the fantasy of a “post-racial” America in this Jim Crow flashback.

George Zimmerman’s mother was Peruvian and his father was a white former judge. He was afforded white privileged treatment in this court travesty. It took two months and a public outcry to even get him arrested. Unfortunately, the George Zimmerman acquittal is business-as-usual in American jurisprudence. The probability of whites convicted for killing African Americans is slim in America’s history, whether in ante-bellum Mississippi where the murder of a slave was considered a property crime, or in Sanford, Florida, where an innocent black teenager was targeted as a criminal. Richard C. Dieter, Esq, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center wrote:

Since 1976, 158 black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, but only 11 white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim. Indeed, in the entire history of the U.S., it has been extremely rare for a white person to be executed for murdering a black person, while executions of blacks for the murder of whites have been relatively common.

I am a black woman with a black husband, son and grandsons. Their lives were made less safe tonight. The blood of a black teenager by a violent vigilante is not only on the hands of George Zimmerman, but the state of Florida, as well.

Just when you thought the life of black people couldn’t be cheaper with white police shooting Oscar Grant in a BART station using the “oops” defense, or the murder of Anthony Anderson by white Baltimore police who got away with killing him on his way to his grandchild’s birthday party, or when 16-year-old Kimani Gray was gunned down by the NYPD, the murder of Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman makes black life worth less than a tinker’s damn.

When I saw that five white jurors would decide whether Trayvon Martin was as important as their own children, it didn’t pass the laugh test for me. People kept saying, “Oh, they’re women. They’ll understand and see Trayvon as their own child.” The issue of race was not supposed to matter. I felt like I was the only sober one in the room. I kept thinking, “What are these people smoking?” The media refused to acknowledge that Martin’s death was in the hands of five white women without a black mother or father to weigh in. The only person of color on the jury, a Hispanic woman, leads one to believe that her color might as well have been white.

When I pondered the possibility of acquittal for George Zimmerman, I thought of the many African American men that I had encountered in the distressed Montford and Biddle Baltimore neighborhood, Residents told me about the police coming through their community threatening and rousting them on a regular basis. I did not have to explain the injustices of the Anthony Anderson case to them. They had stories to tell me. They told me about the unavailability of jobs and the disrespect and brutality of the Baltimore police. Even though this was suppose to be a dangerous neighborhood, I felt at home with them and they were completely respectful, escorting me to my car and opening the door for me. It was so refreshing that these people were not fooled by a “post-racial” narrative that gripped so much of the nation—people not routinely getting frisked by the police. Frankly, I spoke with people who did not have a lot to lose. Many had police records and prison was a permanent shadow in their lives.

When pundits predicted riots in the black community, I did not feel offended as some people did. I could completely understand that black people might become violent. All the conditions for unrest are present in some neighborhoods -- no jobs, no justice, no hope. But I would not like to see frustrated and enraged rioters come up against a hyper-vigilant, violent police force and lose their lives or their freedom, delivering themselves over to the same corrupt system that exonerated Zimmerman.

In the ‘60s, we chose to walk in Birmingham and financially cripple a racist system rather than ride at the back of the bus. In the 21st century, with a back-of-the-bus criminal justice system, we need to use the same tactic and punish Florida’s purse strings. A friend suggested, why not boycott Disneyland in Orlando for a start.

This is not over. But one thing is certain: In the era of Obama and the Supreme Court Scalia slur that voting rights for black people are “racial entitlements,” racism in America is alive, feral, and stalking our black children.

Auset Marian Lewis

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5707","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"220","style":"width: 209px; height: 220px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"209"}}]]Auset Marian Lewis is a writer living in Baltimore.