Jean Barker

Trayvon Martin: Talking it out

2013-07-16 11:55

A friend posted a comment on Facebook that her black friends were very vocal in response to the jury decision, while "very few to none" (sic) of her white friends had anything to say. They cared about gay rights and animals, but not this? "Just observing - and not surprised", she said.

Although her comment was unfair on some of her non-black friends, and annoyed me at the time, it resulted in an interesting discussion. Her non-black friends expressed calm dismay, or hurt that they were lumped with Zimmerman, while one black friend said that people of other ethnic backgrounds had no comment on the verdict because they wanted Trayvon Martin dead. Unfair? Maybe, but in the greater scheme of things it's not hard to see why my friend saw what she expected to see on Facebook.

Of course most black Americans will post right away. Black Americans have had their whole lives to consider the issues while experiencing prejudice first hand every time they enter an electronics store. White people... well nobody's shooting them dead for going to buy candy wearing a hoodie.

Celery city?

Zimmerman's home town of Sanford, Florida, likes to say that its nickname is "Celery City", but has come to be associated with far more sinister things than the evil tasting salad ingredient. If you read up on Sanford on Wiki, the only previous historical event listed for the last 100 years is also a racial scandal. Seems that in '46, Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team signed black player, Jackie Robinson. Their general manager took the team to train in Sanford, and even though Robinson was already not able to share the locker room, stay in regular hotels, or eat out, the team was run out of town by racists who felt that he shouldn't be there at all.

And not enough has changed. After shooting and killing an unarmed teenager last year, George Zimmerman, who had a history of violence, was treated for head injuries and released without being tested for alcohol or drugs, properly questioned, or charged with manslaughter. Let's just call that what it is: a sad indication that the police made racially motivated assumptions as to guilt and innocence without doing their jobs properly.

Flawed system

So the case was flawed from the start. It didn't help that Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution's "star witness", wasn't the brightest star that ever shone. Her testimony did more harm than good, persuading many that Trayvon Martin may have inflamed the situation.

Despite this, most people I spoke to seemed to see overwhelming evidence pointing to, at least, a manslaughter conviction for Zimmerman. The punishment for getting pissed off with a stalker shouldn't be death. But what do you know? Zimmerman walks, with little chance of a civil suit succeeding.

And this all matters, because as much as America has changed, it also hasn't. Black and white people worship separately, socialise separately, join different sororities and fraternities, and on the whole live separate lives.

Movies and TV favour white audiences almost to the exclusion of black ones - ask any black actor in Hollywood how many roles are out there for them. Not a lot, especially if they don't want to play the buddy cop, the teacher, or the doctor - rarely lead roles.

'The Talk'

And so, there's The Talk: in their early teens, young black men can still expect their parents to sit them down for a lecture. This is basically a list of ways to survive by avoiding doing anything that might frighten armed white folk and cause them to react violently on the basis of racist assumptions.

What's most telling, however, are the other convictions and sentencing of black people, in Florida, in recent years - in cases in which the same "stand your ground" law that got Zimmerman off was invoked by the defence.

In the first case, Marissa Alexander, who had a restraining order out against her husband, fired a bullet at a wall to scare him off when he came by her house to threaten her. She is serving 20 years in prison. She is - surprise surprise - black. She was offered a plea deal of three years (which to someone who is innocent is an unimaginably long time to serve) and turned it down. The jury convicted her after 12 minutes of "debate". Stand your ground? I wouldn't. Not if I were black in South Florida.

And okay, this story is from New York State, not Florida. But when John White (who is black) accidentally killed a white teenage boy who lunged at him, he got two to four years of jail time. The kid he shot was one of a mob who came to his house, and called him "nigger" when he wouldn't let them into his house to beat up his son.

What if all the jurors weren't white? What if Zimmerman were black? This article on blog The Political Freakshow makes it pretty clear "what".

Here's how another friend put it on Facebook: "Let's get it straight so we can stop. There is 'racism' and there is 'white privilege'. There is no such thing as 'white racism' or 'reverse discrimination'." And I have to agree. Racism is racism and calling it what it is is the first step to ending it.

There is too much evidence that race resulted in Zimmerman getting away with this. Protesting it and discussing (no matter what racial group you're born into) is the first step towards ensuring this kind of thing doesn't keep on happening.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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Read more on:    george zimmerman  |  trayvon martin  |  us

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