Trayvon Martin: Why Zimmerman was acquitted

2013-07-21 14:00

A jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges related to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But while the verdict came as a surprise to some people, it made perfect sense to others.

This verdict is a crystal-clear illustration of the way white supremacy operates in America.

Throughout the trial, the media repeatedly referred to an “all-woman jury” in that Seminole County courtroom, adding that most of them were mothers.

That is true, but it is also true that five of the six jurors were white, and that is profoundly significant in cases like this one.

We also know that the lone juror of colour was seen apparently wiping a tear during the prosecution’s rebuttal.

But that tear didn’t ultimately convince her or the white people on that jury that Zimmerman was guilty of anything.

Not guilty. Not after stalking, shooting and killing a black child, a child that the defence insultingly argued was “armed with concrete”.

In the last few days, Latinos in particular have spoken up again about Zimmerman’s race, and the “white Hispanic” label especially, largely responding to social-media users and mass media pundits who employed the term.

Watching Zimmerman in the defence seat, his sister in the courtroom and his mother on the stand, one can’t deny the skin colour that informs their experience. They are not white.

Yet Zimmerman’s apparent ideology – one that is suspicious of black men in his neighbourhood, the “assholes who always get away” – is one that adheres to white supremacy.

It was replicated in the courtroom by his defence, whose team tore away at Rachel Jeantel, questioning the young woman as if she were taking a Jim Crow-era literacy test.

The defence, during closing, cited Thomas Jefferson, played an animation for the jury based on erroneous assumptions, made racially coded accusations about Trayvon Martin emerging “out of the darkness”, and had the audacity to compare the case of the killing of an unarmed black teenager to siblings arguing over which one stole a cookie.

When Zimmerman was acquitted, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defence team – and a swath of society – that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society at large safe.

Media on the left, right and centre have been fanning the flames of fearmongering, speculating that people – and black people especially – will take to the streets. That fearmongering represents a deep, white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman’s fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat.

But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety. The anxiety that black men feel every time they walk out the door – and the anxiety their loved ones feel for them as well. That white anxiety serves to conceal the real public threat: that a black man is killed every 28 hours by a cop or vigilante.

People will take to the streets, and with good reason. They’ll be there because they know that, yes, some people do always get away – and it tends to be those strapped with guns and the logic of white supremacy at their side. – The Nation

»?Bogado writes about racial justice, native rights and immigration

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